West Virginia Governor Promises Mine Safety Legislation

Pledging to the families of 14 coal miners that "they have not died in vain," West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III said he planned to introduce three mine safety bills today aimed at quickening rescue response and helping trapped miners stay alive longer.

Manchin, speaking to reporters shortly after two miners were found dead Jan. 21 in Aracoma Coal's Alma Mine No. 1 near Mellville, W.Va., said he and other state officials have spent more than 85 hours with missing miners' families over the past 3 weeks during search-and-rescue efforts at the Aracoma and Sago mines. Twelve miners died at the Sago Mine near Tallmansville, W.Va., earlier this month following an explosion at the mine.

"[T]he suffering, the pain that everyone has endured is more than any state should have to go through," Manchin said. "I can only tell you that this has got to stop. It's going to stop. We're going to change."

In the wake of this month's mining tragedies, Manchin promised to introduce three pieces of legislation: one dealing with rescue response times, one proposing to have miners wear electronic tracking devices and a third mandating reserve oxygen stations and supplies within mines.

"One will be a rapid response [bill]," Manchin said. "There's no way we should not, and I repeat, not be able to respond as quickly as possible.

"God forbid, if something happens to me health-wise, I can get an ambulance fairly quickly. But if something happens in a mining or industrial accident, it doesn't seem to work under the same urgency, and that's going to stop."

Detailing his proposal to mandate reserve supplies of oxygen within mines, Manchin said: "I believe that not one person that works in the mine should ever, ever pass away or perish because of lack of oxygen, suffocation or asphyxiation."

After introducing these bills into the West Virginia Legislature today, Manchin said he and the state's delegation of U.S. senators and representatives planned to go to Washington to push for changes to the nation's mine safety regulations.

"These two men that perished in [the Aracoma] Mine, the 12 that perished in the Sago Mine, I can only say to each one of their families … that they have not died in vain," Manchin said. "They're gonna look back and say 'because of my dad, because of my uncle, or my brother or my cousin, we have laws now that others will be safe.'"

New Mine Safety Commissioned Formed

In a related development, the National Mining Association announced that it has created an independent commission tasked with studying how new technologies, procedures and training can improve safety in the nation's underground coal mines.

The commission will be chaired by Dr. R. Larry Grayson, chairman and professor of mining engineering at the University of Missouri-Rolla. NMA Vice President of Safety and Health Bruce Watzman detailed the commission's purpose in testimony this morning before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies at an oversight hearing on mine safety in the aftermath of the Sago Mine tragedy.

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