In recent years, the Mine Safety and Health Administration pulled Clinton-era initiatives examining safety equipment and mine rescue operations off its regulatory agenda. Those initiatives included ones dealing with oxygen packs that miners carry and the ability of mine rescue teams to do their jobs.
The Bush administration cited changing priorities and resource concerns in withdrawing the items. Miners' advocates say the action prevented the creation of important safety rules.
Top Bush administration mine regulators made an early exit Monday from a U.S. Senate hearing on two West Virginia mining disasters that killed 14 people.
David Dye, the administration's top mine-safety official, left shortly after testifying and fielding questions but before critics of the administration's safety efforts were scheduled to testify. His exit drew a rebuke from the committee's Republican chairman, Arlen Specter, who threatened to subpoena Dye to force him to stay to the end of future hearings.
Dye, the assistant secretary of Labor for mine safety and health, said he had pressing business and that the hearing had "diverted" his agency from protecting miners.
"We don't think we're imposing too much to keep you here for another hour or so," the senator said before Dye left the room, accompanied by Ray McKinney, the federal administrator of coal mine safety.
Specter said he was "disappointed" that Dye left the Senate hearing because he wanted the mine-safety official to respond to later witnesses who were sharply critical of the Bush administration's mine-safety enforcement efforts.