The mine safety measure, titled the Mine Safety Tax Relief Act, was sponsored by Sen. John D. Rockefeller, D-W. Va, and allows mine operators to receive up to a $10,000 tax credit to train rescue team members. They would also be able to immediately write off 50 percent of new mine safety equipment, which includes devices allowing miners to communicate with people above ground, technology to track miners' whereabouts and extra oxygen packs.
For both of these tax incentives, mine operators have only 3 years to use these incentives in order to ensure that they act quickly to bring about better and safer conditions.
The measure was passed in response to the recent mining tragedies in West Virginia, where a total of 16 miners have been killed since the beginning of 2006. The provision was part of a larger $70 billion tax-cut bill also approved by the Senate.
Rockefeller that the recent tragedies were a wakeup call for immediate action and that there was a need for change. "The status quo is no longer acceptable," Rockefeller said. "Everyone must work together to make coal mining safer.
"In Congress, we have an obligation to help coal companies meet tougher safety standards, and these tax credits should be a big help," he added.
Rockefeller and the entire West Virginia congressional delegation introduced bills in the Senate and House that would force the Secretary of Labor to improve emergency communications and breathing equipment, increase penalties for unsafe mines, encourage the use of new technology in mines and create an ombudsman in the Department of Labor's Inspector General's offices so that miners can anonymously report safety violations in mines.
Representatives from the West Virginia Coal Association (WVCA) told OccupationalHazards.com they were pleased with the state government's effort to introduce measures that would make mining safer.
"Measures like these will help us achieve the goal of having the safest mining companies around the world," said Jason Bostic, press officer for the WVCA. "Ultimately, we would like to achieve the goal of having zero casualties in West Virginia's mines."
The Senate acted after West Virginia's governor ordered a state-wide safety stand-down. West Virginia miners started their shifts Thursday with lectures on safety, and officials began statewide inspections at the mines.
Separate legislation sponsored by West Virginia's House and Senate lawmakers would require, among other things, that mine operators store extra oxygen underground. Companies currently must provide miners with air packs that have about a 1-hour oxygen supply.
The House-Senate bill also would require MSHA to toughen fines against coal companies that violate safety rules.