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Celebrating 40 Years of Landmark Mine Health and Safety Legislation

Nearly 250 people gathered in the Labor Department’s Great Hall on Tuesday, March 23, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969. This legislation was born out of a terrible disaster that took place on Nov. 20, 1968, at Consolidation Coal's No. 9 mine in Farmington, West Va. taking the lives of 78 miners. Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health and master of ceremonies, characterized the event as a cautious celebration and solemn remembrance. “Out of tragedy, a strong law was born,” said Main. “We celebrate the law, we rejoice in the results — and we mourn those who died to make it possible.”

Secretary Solis heralded the unsung heroes of the day. “The driving force behind the passage of the Coal Act was not the lobbyists, or the unions, or the government regulators. It was the widows of those 78 men,” said Solis. “Not satisfied to stand by and simply grieve, they demanded change. They called for tougher safety and health regulations for future generations of coal miners,” she added. Carlo Tarley, secretary-treasurer emeritus of the United Mine Workers of America, delivered moving remarks about his experience as a mine rescue team member who helped remove some of the bodies from the Farmington Mine, including that of his brother. Also commemorating the anniversary was President Obama who, in a letter read during the ceremony, said, in part: “Guarding the health and security of our workers preserves the long-term health of our citizens, our economy, and our Nation. I thank the employees of the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration for their dedication to America’s workers.”