Rep. Denny Rehberg, Montana Press Release

May 09, 2011CONTACT: Jed Link, 202-225-3211

Rehberg Looks Into Attack on Montana’s Mining Industry at Oversight Hearing for MSHA

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Montana's Congressman, Denny Rehberg, today submitted questions to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) following an oversight hearing in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, which he chairs.  After a string of frivolous citations and fines, Montanans contacted Rehberg to express their concerns that MSHA’s mission of working with mine operators to improve workplace safety was being abused to harass and even destroy the resource extraction industry and all the jobs associated with it.

“Workplace safety is an absolutely critical goal, which is why that’s the top priority of the Mine Safety and Health Administration – or at least it should be,” said Rehberg. “Looking over this agency’s actions over the past two years, there’s growing concern that an under-trained staff and a growing list of frivolous citations shows the agency’s focus has shifted from industry oversight to an activist environmental agenda.  If this is the case, not only does workplace safety then take a back seat, but the economy suffers from needless over-regulation.”

Rehberg and members of his subcommittee questioned MSHA Assistant Secretary of Labor Joseph Main, along with Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) administrator David Michaels.  Rehberg drew on numerous examples of frivolous citations from mines across the country, including the Troy Mine in northwest Montana, where, for instance, the mine was cited for a violation of a burnt out light bulb in an unused 4x8 closet, and when an employee filled out a form using “Troy Mine, Genesis Inc.” instead of “Genesis Inc., Troy Mine.” 

At the hearing, congressional leaders expressed concerns over a 2010 government audit that revealed more than 25 percent of MSHA inspectors believe they have not been properly trained.  This was highlighted by the example of an inspector citing an operator for an alleged failure to conduct a pre-shift examination of a piece of equipment, even though, by MSHA’s own definition, the equipment did not require such an exam.  That citation was later vacated.

One particularly egregious example involved a September 23, 2010 incident in which two different coyotes were spotted around the maintenance shop, the welding shop, and the employee parking lots.  This was construed as “imminent danger” – so the law requires that all miners be removed from the vicinity when the coyotes are present.  Moreover, all miners were required to attend a safety meeting reminding them of the danger of coyotes and other wild animals and of the procedures to take when the coyotes are spotted on mine property.

“I’d like to see MSHA live up to the Obama Administration’s claims that they’re working for a better economy instead of using bureaucrats to implement excessive policies that Congress and the American people don’t want,” said Rehberg.  “With new technology and stringent oversight, the resource industry has made great strides in workplace safety.  It’s time to recognize that, and continue working together for good jobs and prosperous communities.”

“Our collective mission is to create the safest work environment possible here at our mine” said Don Wallace, a member of the worker elected safety committee at the Troy mine. "We are always striving to find ways to improve safety, and it sure would be nice to have the partnership we had with MSHA in the past."

Rep. Denny Rehberg Website