President Obama on Thursday called for stiffer enforcement of mining safety regulations in the wake of last week’s deadly explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, blaming the tragedy in part on laws “riddled with loopholes” and a management that put its bottom line before the safety of its workers.
“The people of West Virginia are in our prayers,” Mr. Obama said, “but we owe them more than prayers: We owe them action; we owe them accountability.”
Before speaking to reporters in the Rose Garden, Mr. Obama met with Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis and Joseph Main of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, who briefed him on the federal investigation into the incident, in which 29 miners were killed and two injured.
In response to their preliminary report, Mr. Obama ordered a federal review of mines with poor safety records. He also called on Congress to toughen enforcement of existing regulations as well as close loopholes that he said allow mine owners to avoid enforcement by gumming up federal agencies with legal challenges.
Mr. Obama was critical of the owner of Upper Big Branch, Massey Energy Co., and said its owners “should be held accountable for the decisions they’ve made” and the precautions they failed to take.
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III has requested that all of the state’s mines close Friday so owners can review their safety procedures. He also has asked a former federal mining safety official to probe the incident.
While noting that mining is inherently dangerous, Mr. Obama added, “If a tragedy can be prevented, it must be prevented.”