President Barack Obama ordered an exhaustive federal review of coal mine safety Thursday and asked Congress to strengthen existing laws "riddled with loopholes."
"I refuse to accept any number of miner deaths as simply a cost of doing business," Obama told reporters in the Rose Garden, vowing to step up scrutiny of coal mine safety standards in the aftermath of the April 5 explosion at a Massey Energy Co. mine in West Virginia where 29 miners were killed.
Obama said the government would act to quickly get inspectors into mines across the nation that have "troubling safety records."
"Owners responsible for conditions in the Upper Big Branch mine should be held accountable for decisions they made and preventative measures they failed to take," he said.
The president said that when miners go to work, "they ought to know that behind them is a company that's doing what it should to protect them" and that they have "a government looking out for their safety."
"If a tragedy can be prevented, it must be prevented," Obama said. He told federal mine safety officials to work closely with state counterparts to improve mine safety.
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin on Wednesday ordered state safety officials to inspect all underground mines in the state immediately, beginning with ones that had been cited for combustion-related violations.
Obama said he directed Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to work closely with Congress to "strengthen existing laws" and to close loopholes. He cited "endless litigation" on the part of mining companies "to evade their responsibility."
"We can't just hold mining companies accountable. We have to hold Washington accountable," the president said.
Inadequate ventilation and a build up of methane gas is believed to have been a factor in the explosion at Massey's Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va. That mine had a history of safety violations.
Obama spoke after receiving a preliminary report about the Upper Big Branch mine from Solis and Mine Safety and Health Administrator Joe Main. He said their report showed there are far too many mines where safety is inadequate
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