Sequester could lead to big cuts in funding for mine safety

Most people in California have heard about the sequestration, the government’s cuts in funding to a wide range of programs. While some people might find the lack of funding a mere inconvenience, in some circumstances it could be much more severe than that. One such instance is the lack of funding for some mine safety programs.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration, known as MSHA, doesn’t fully know how much money it will lose. But officials all over the country are expecting substantial cuts, perhaps as much as two-thirds of what they’ve been used to. This could only increase the potential for a deadly workplace accident in California and one of the state’s many mines.

In fact, many people say that MHSA already is underfunded. Some of that shortfall could be made up if the mining companies that have been fined would pay the outstanding amounts that they owe; the total is somewhere around $70 million. Simply by having large fines outstanding undermines the authority of the MHSA anyway, according to some critics: if companies are fined but don’t have to pay, there is not much incentive for them to make improvements.

And now not only will states see their funding cut but the agency will have a tough time replacing safety inspectors who leave the organization. Mining is one industry that needs the oversight: at least 27 miners have died on the job since the beginning of last year and many more are afflicted by conditions such as black lung disease that were developed from working in mines.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Sequestration Guts Mine Safety Grants As Coal Companies Owe Millions In Back Fines,” Dave Jamieson, March 26, 2013

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