Mine safety legislation sails through West Virginia legislature
In a span of eight hours Monday, the state Legislature reviewed and passed Gov. Joe Manchin's proposals to better track miners underground, prompt faster emergency responses and stockpile oxygen for trapped miners.
â€œThese 14 miners have not died in vain,â€ Manchin said afterward. â€œNo minerâ€™s family is going to have to endure what we all endured for 90 hours over the past three weeks.â€
Twelve coal miners were killed following a Jan. 2 explosion at the Sago Mine in Tallmansville, and two miners died as a result of a fire Jan. 19 at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine in Melville.
The measures were passed unanimously in a single bill. Manchin is expected to sign the bill by the end of the week, said spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg.
The governorâ€™s bill creates a new rapid response system for mine and industrial accidents, and requires coal operators to issue emergency communicators and personal tracking devices to all underground miners.
â€œWhat we've done today is a start. This is just the beginning,'' Manchin said.
Once the governor signs the bill, coal companies will have to comply by the end of February. While the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration enforces federal safety laws, states can pass more stringent mining regulations if they want to.
In Washington, the Senate opened a hearing on mine safety.
â€œThese deaths I believe were entirely preventable,â€ said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. â€œAnd we owe the families of these deceased and noble and great and brave men a hard look of what happened and why.â€
Most mines in the United States still rely heavily on hard-wired communication systems, which can be damaged by explosions and fires. Rescue teams were unable to communicate with the trapped Sago miners because of such damage.
The new wireless system required by the state legislation would provide one-way, low-frequency communication to miners, sending text messages to inform them of an emergency and the best evacuation route.