Entry for February 06, 2006

Today, my big contribution to Wikipedia was writing about the legislation in West Virginia and Congress attempting to prevent another disaster like Sago. The picture above, from CBS Newsshows Governor Manchin and Senator Byrd when they testified before Congress.

West Virginia SB 247

After the Sago Mine disaster, the state legislature passed Gov. Joe Manchin’s SB247 on the January 23, 2006, the same day it was submitted. The bill created a new mine emergency-response system and required coal companies to provide miners with additional emergency air supplies, communications equipment and tracking devices. The governor signed the bill into law on January 27, 2006. Provisions of the law and its history of passage are available on the state legislatures’s website.

In a story in the Charleston Gazette on February 03, 2006, “Manchin mine rules contain no deadlines”, staff writer Ken Ward Jr. reported on emergency rules filed February 1, 2006 with WV Secretary of State Betty Ireland to implement the law.

The Manchin administration can put the requirements into effect as soon as Ireland approves them, or in 42 days if she takes no action. The Governor must submit the rules for a public comment period and revise them accordingly. The emergency rules can remain in effect for 15 months. Final rules require legislative approvalm which will likely take place in the 2007 session.

Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training (MHST)

In the first set of rules, the state Office of MHST will require caches of air supplies to give each miner at least 16 additional devices. Mines with coal seams taller than four feet must have caches every 2,500 feet in each working section. In smaller mines, there must be caches every 1,250 feet. Operators must submit plans for cache locations within 30 days for review and suggestions for change; however there is no deadline for equiping the mines with the caches.

Coal operators have no deadline to provide miners with improved rescue gear. It also sets no deadline for new communications equipment or tracking devices.

On February 2, 2003, MHST director Conaway said as soon as the equipment becomes available, “we’re expecting them to be in the mines….An operator is going to have to show us that they have it or that it’s on order….If they can’t get them, they are going to have to show us that they have ordered them and that they are trying to get them.”

According to Ward, Chris Hamilton, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said “I know there are several months of backlog right now…There is still some concern on the reliability of the wireless communications and tracking system….A lot of that is still in the prototype stage and not commercially available.”

This last statement contradicts the finding of a 2003 MSHA report which called the systems “generally effective” and said the agency “encourages” their use.

Mine and Industrial Accident Rapid Response System

The West Virginia Division of Homeland Security proposes a rule that requests filed under the state Freedom of Information Act “shall be held in abeyance until appropriate notification of next of kin of any deceased or victims that are grievously injured.” The next of kin will have to give consent for the relase of information.

Any requests for information about mine accidents reported to the new response system must include the “exact dates and times” of accidents and “the intended use of any information provided.”

Jimmy Gianato, the state’s homeland security director, said the language might need to be revised if questions are raised about properly responding to FOIA requests.

S.2231

On February 1, 2006, Senator Robert C. Byrd, (D-WV) introduced a bill to direct the Secretary of Labor to prescribe additional coal mine safety standards and require additional penalties for habitual violators. The bills was referred to the to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Initial cosponors were Democrats Richard Durban [IL], Tom Harkin (IA), Edward M. Sen Kennedy (MA), Barack Obama (IL) and Sen , John D. Rockefeller, IV (WV). The status of the bill can be tracked on Thomas, the Library of Congress’s legislative information system.

Senator Byrd’s news release on his Senate website outlined some of the provisions of the bill.

The 2006 Congressional Record for the statements made by Senators Byrd, Rockefeller, Reid and Kennedy regarding the introduction of this bill runs from page S447 to S452. It can be found on the Government Printing Office site.

Communications and air–The bill would mandate equipment to communicate with and locate miners and provide sufficient caches of air.

Rescue teams–Rescue teams must be staffed and on site

Immediate notification–Operators must notify the MSHA immediately when there is an accident. Any coal operator who fails to do so will be subject to a $100,000 fine.

MSHA notification and response–The bill would mandate a rapid notificaton and response system.

Manditory miniumum penalty–The bill would create a new mandatory minimum penalty of $10,000 for coal operators that show “negligence or reckless disregard” for the safety standards of the Mine Act.

No use of belts for ventilation–The bill would nullify an MSHA rule issued in 2004 that authorizes the use of belt entries for ventilation, which may have caused fire in another accident at Alma.

MSHA science and technology office–The bill would create a science and technology transfer office in MSHA to pull research and development ideas from other federal agencies for use in the mines.

Ombudsman–The bill would create an ombudsman in the Labor Department’s Inspector General office for miners to report safety violations.

H.R.4695

Also, on February 1, 2006, Representative Nick J. Rahall (D-WV) filed companion legislation in the House of Representative, where it was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Co-sponsors were Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Alan B. Mollohan (D-WV).

Current status is found by searching on the bill number on Thomas, the Library of Congress’s legislative information system.

The Congressional Recordfor Rahall’s comments is found on page H127 and pages E 46 and 47.

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