The United Mine Workers Association (UMWA) says the bill would roll back hard-won health and safety standards for miners.
"The coal industry is saying the state needs to do this because West Virginia's mine safety and health law is more stringent than federal law. You bet it is, and for a very good reason. West Virginia is always at or near the top in the number of miners who are killed on the job every year, and we have more miners working in the dangerous underground environment than any other state,” according to a statement released by the UMWA.
The bill would:
- abolish the Diesel Equipment Commission, which is responsible for regulating all diesel equipment that goes in underground mines. The Commission’s responsibilities would be transferred to the Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training.
- increase the distance a rail track can be from the working face area from 500 feet to 1,500 feet (thus tripling the distance that an injured miner would have to be transported to rail transportation)
- remove language from the state code that was put into law in response to the Blacksville No. 1 Mine Fire in 1972 that killed 9 West Virginia coal miners.
Sago, Aracoma and Upper Big Branch
"As long as miners continue to die in West Virginia's mines, we need to be looking for ways to strengthen health and safety protections, not gut them. Have we forgotten the lessons of Sago, Aracoma and Upper Big Branch so soon? Are the lives and limbs of miners any less important today than they were last year, five years ago or 20 years ago? It would seem so, at least for some.
The UMWA said the bill “is about taking money out of the most advanced state safety and health requirements in America and putting it in the pockets of coal operators. When safety standards are cut, miners die. It's that simple."
The bill was introduced by Delegates R. Smith, Wagner, Summers, Zatezalo, Gearheart, Moffatt, Cadle, R. Phillips, J. Nelson, Kessinger and B. White.