The National Mining Association said Tuesday there is no need for new regulations to bolster mine safety because the government already has the enforcement tools it needs.
NMA spokesman Bruce Watzman told lawmakers in prepared testimony that the Mine Safety and Health Administration should use its existing authority to close mining operations for imminent danger, when necessary, or seek injunctions in federal court to shut down problem mines.
His comments were for presentation at the Senate's first hearing on the mine explosion in West Virginia earlier this month that killed 29 men.
Watzman called for a new, cooperative emphasis on safety programs and warned that "regulations alone are not sufficient to see continued improvement."
Joe Main, head of the federal mine safety agency, is expected to tell lawmakers how it can strengthen enforcement against mines that habitually ignore safety rules.
The hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee was not planned to focus on the specific cause of the April 5 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration and its parent agency, the Department of Labor, have already called for regulatory and legal changes that would help the federal government investigate, prevent and punish mine companies that violate the law and bog the system down with lengthy appeals that delay stiffer penalties.
United Mine Workers union president Cecil Roberts said in his prepared remarks that he wants CEOs and corporate boards of directors held accountable for work sites that repeatedly violate safety and health rules.
"It is not enough to issue fines or levy charges against low-level managers who violate the law when they are doing what their supervisors direct and expect," Roberts said.
Main and other officials have already noted that the mine, owned by Massey Energy Co., was repeatedly cited for problems with its methane ventilation system and other issues in the months leading up to the accident.
Massey Energy chief executive Don Blankenship wasn't on the list of witnesses Tuesday, but his company previously defended its safety record.
The committee also is looking at safety problems in other dangerous industries in the wake of a Washington state oil refinery blast earlier this month than killed 6 workers.
David Michaels, head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, will discuss stepped up enforcement to improve workplace safety.