The UMWA argued the locations and methods excluded and even prevented miners from participating.
October 14 will be the only day MSHA will hear oral testimonies on its Proposed Rule for Alcohol and Drug-Free Mines: Policy, Prohibitions, Testing, Training, and Assistance published in the Federal Register earlier this month.
The site locations for the planned videoconference are Washington, West Virginia; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Denver, Colorado. Participation by audio only has been coordinated for Beckley, West Virginia and Birmingham, Alabama.
On Tuesday, UMWA official Dennis O’Dell said in a letter to MSHA that “listening isn’t participating” and the voices of those affected – the miners – would not be heard.
“My guess is that these locations were chosen to purposely limit if not eliminate the miners' participation," said O'Dell.
“Historically, Denver, Colorado has had very low turnouts for MSHA's past public hearings. I am also trying to figure out how many active coal miners live in the Washington, DC area that will be participating on the day of the teleconference. My guess is zero."
The union said it objected to federal officials’ attempts to collect all comment from the industry in a single day.
“We are certain that many from the coal industry will be interested in commenting on this proposal and how it corresponds with current regulations in states, their experiences with such programs, and company sponsored alcohol and drug-testing programs,” O’Dell said.
“Those participants will certainly be limited in the time to make their presentations, unlike any other proposed rule public hearings, which are held in separate locations on different days.
“Further, those participating in Beaver, WV and Birmingham, AL, which are in the heart of coal country, will not be able to make any oral presentation, but can simply sit and listen to what is being said.”
The UMWA said the single-day format would not provide a “sufficient platform” for input to the topic. It urged the agency to conduct the hearings as it has with others in the past, with hearings in various locations and including ample speaking opportunity.
“Limiting the public to a single hearing further caters to the Department of Labor’s objectives rather than providing enough public hearings in coal field locations to hear what the industry stakeholders have to say on this matter,” O’Dell said.
Despite the agency extending the comment period on the proposed rulemaking from 30 to 60 days – individuals now have until October 29 to submit input – the UMWA is requesting a 60-day extension to the comment period.
“If MSHA were truly interested in learning what the miners think about this very important issue, it would permit additional hearings, provide more than audio access to all locations and allow more time for the preparation and submission of comments,” it said.
MSHA adds hearing sites
MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere told ILN the agency had added two sites to its October 14 teleconference – Price, Utah and Madisonville, Kentucky. There will now be seven locations in total, she said, adding that testimony will be taken from all.
“MSHA is committed to making the public hearing on its … proposed rule as accessible as possible to our stakeholders,” she confirmed.
“Traditionally, MSHA has offered three and sometimes four locations for stakeholders to testify, so this would mark at least a 50 per cent increase in locations to testify. Each and every comment will be carefully considered as we work toward drafting a final rule.”
The impetus for the decision was the concern of a number of the agency’s stakeholders, not just the union, she added.
Meanwhile, the UMWA told the Associated Press the proposal was unnecessary as most mining operations already had procedures for testing their miners.
“As pointed out in our earlier comments, MSHA has not determined there is a significant problem with improper drug and alcohol use in the coal mining industry and provides no statistical data to prove this need is as great as suggested in the proposal commentary," said O'Dell.