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Obama To Order Inspections Of 'Troubling' Mines  

2010-04-15 19:22:33|  分类: 历史与文化 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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by Howard Berkes

April 15, 2010

President Obama will issue an order Thursday sending federal mine safety inspectors and enforcement officials into mines with "troubling safety records," according to the White House.

The announcement will come at a morning meeting with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Joe Main, assistant secretary for Mine Safety and Health. Solis and Main will present to the president a preliminary report on last week's explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, in which 29 miners died.

The report will also include a preliminary assessment of mine safety nationwide.

A White House statement says Solis and Main will tell Obama that the safety record at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine is "deeply troubling" and that the nation has "far too many mines where safety is inadequate."

The deployment of inspectors and enforcement officials will take place "immediately," the White House says, "to ensure that the conditions that led to this disaster are not present" at other mines.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration disclosed Monday that a computer glitch kept officials from targeting the Upper Big Branch mine for greater safety scrutiny in the months preceding the explosion. The agency said the mishap did not contribute to the disaster but three key members of Congress called it "deeply disturbing."

One of them, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, followed up Wednesday with his own analysis of federal mine safety records. Miller says 48 mines, including Upper Big Branch, escaped tighter federal scrutiny because of a massive backlog in the mine safety inspection system. Miller's list includes three Massey Energy mines identified in an NPR News investigation as having higher injury rates than the national rate.

Mining companies routinely appeal safety citations and the system is so overwhelmed 16,000 citations are now on hold.

Miller said that "mine operators who game the system to avoid tough scrutiny by federal safety officials must be held accountable." A Senate Labor Committee hearing on the appeals backlog is scheduled April 27.

Also Wednesday, West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin ordered an immediate inspection of all underground coal mines in his state. Manchin's order targets mines with repeated risk of combustion. An explosive mix of methane gas and coal dust is suspected of being the cause of the Upper Big Branch disaster.

"We will focus initially on those (mines) that we regard as somewhat troublesome," says Ron Wooten, the director of West Virginia's Office of Miner's Health, Safety and Training.

State investigators are expected to begin their work Friday. Manchin says he wants the higher risk mines inspected in the next two weeks.

The 29 deaths at the Upper Big Branch mine make the explosion there the worst mine disaster in 40 years. Just three weeks ago, federal mine safety officials and representatives of mining companies and unions gathered in Washington to celebrate 2009 as the industry's safest year on record.

(NPR's Robert Benincasa and The Associated Press contributed information for this report.)

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