WASHINGTON -- Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., charged Wednesday the Reagan administration has weakened mine safety regulations at the behest of industry, exposing miners to 'preventable hazards.'
Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, said a year-long investigation by his panel also found the Mine Safety and Health Administration harassed its own inspectors when they tried to prosecute law-breaking coal operators.
'No one who labors in the mines deserves to be exposed to preventable hazards that they cannot see or avoid,' Kennedy said in a prepared statement opening a hearing on the alleged abuses.
'Yet year after year miners are crushed or suffocated or electrocuted on the job because those with the responsibility to assure their safety fail to do their jobs.'
Scheduled to testify at the hearing are present and former mine safety officials who, committee investigators say, were harassed or transferred when they tried to enforce federal mine safety rules.
Committee investigators said the hearings will focus on mine safety officials in Tennessee and Virginia, some of whom were involved with the Grundy 21 mine in Whitwell, Tenn., where 13 miners died in an explosion in December 1981.
Kennedy said the committee investigation began last fall when the panel received information that the mine safety administration had watered down its regulations on electrical safety in the mines.
'In virtually every case where the mining industry sought regulations weaker than those recommended by the mine safety administration's own experts, the agency overruled its experts to side with theindustry,' Kennedy said.
In recent years, safety administration officials have emphasized a more 'cooperative' approach to mine safety enforcement that sought to get federal inspectors, mine operators and the United Mine Workers working together to improve working conditions.
Union officials have criticized that approach, saying it allows mine operators to get away with violations.