Utah's Bishop Votes ‘No' as Committee Passes Mine-Safety Bill

Utah's Bishop Votes ‘No' as Committee Passes Mine-Safety Bill

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A U.S. House committee, influenced by the Crandall Canyon mine disaster, passed a bill Wednesday that raises fines for safety violations, creates an office for whistleblowers and adds more oversight of a controversial practice called retreat mining.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and other Republicans voted against the legislation, which now moves to the House floor. The vote by the House Education and Labor Committee was 26-18.

Bishop said the bill would impede changes still being implemented as part of a mine-safety law approved last year with industry's input, long before nine people died in August at Crandall Canyon in central Utah.

He said the bill was "partisan" and "misguided" on some provisions.

"We all want mines to be as safe as possible, but I don't think this bill achieves that goal," Bishop said.

Relatives of the nine victims recently told the committee that the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration did not do enough to protect miners.

The bill would give MSHA subpoena authority, increase penalties for safety violations and create an ombudsman's office to handle safety complaints from miners who are concerned about retaliation if they speak out.

"Our aim is a simple one: We want to do everything we can to ensure that miners are able to return home safely at the end of their shifts," the committee's chairman, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said in a statement.

The legislation would also change standards to combat risks like black lung disease and increase the amount of information available to miners about health issues.

Retreat mining is a common but sometimes dangerous method in which miners yank out a mine's pillars, grabbing the last of the coal. That method was approved for Crandall Canyon, but mine co-owner Bob Murray has insisted it had nothing to do with the disaster.

Mine safety has been a popular topic on Capitol Hill.

The House passed legislation Monday, sponsored by Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, that orders a study into technology needed to communicate with miners trapped far underground. It now goes to the Senate.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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