Coal Tattoo

Acting Gov. Tomblin on McAteer report

Here’s a statement from the office of Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, acting as governor:

“I want to thank Davitt McAteer and his team for their hard work and dedication in presenting the Report to the Governor on the Upper Big Branch mine disaster (“Report”). With the information presented in the Report, we are steps closer to identifying the cause of this horrific incident and also to identifying potential reforms to improve mine safety.

My staff, along with the experts at the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health Safety & Training (“OMHS&T”), has already begun our review of the Report and will continue that review in the coming days. The Report, along with the reports that will be issued by the OMHS&T and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (“MSHA”) in the coming months, will provide my administration the information necessary to develop regulatory and statutory changes necessary to improve mine safety in West Virginia. The Report, along with the final conclusions by our OMHS&T and MSHA, should also provide significant insight as to the cause of this disaster and help us prevent future mine disasters. Just as was the case with the Sago and Aracoma disasters, I remain strongly committed to improving mine safety in our State. My office will continue to work closely with all involved to make West Virginia’s mines the safest in the nation.

I do want to note that the State has already taken several steps to address recommendations that are contained in the Report for the OMHS&T. Specifically, the State has begun to address inspector staffing issues. During this past Legislative Session, we added $750,000 to the budget of OMHS&T for a $5,004 pay raise for all mine inspectors. This will aid in recruitment and retention of qualified inspectors.

We have recently hired new inspectors to focus on making sure that mines are properly rock dusted. Those inspectors are currently in training. The OMHS&T’s lab for rock dust analysis is in place and is expected to begin operating around July 1 of this year, once training has been completed. For the first time in the history of our State, the OMHS&T will undertake a scientific analysis of the rock dust present in mines. It is my hope this action will further improve mining safety.

Furthermore, the OMHS&T has already shifted resources to provide additional inspector time for larger mines, like the one at UBB. Our inspectors are now working more frequently on the weekends, allowing for inspections, as the Report suggests, at any hour and on any day.

Finally, the Report also suggests several improvements relating to communications and technological advancements. I am certainly interested in using proven, reliable, and available technology to improve mine safety and communications. That is why I was so proud of the State’s acquisition of the Command Unit Rapid Response Task Force 1 and Mine Rescue Truck. The first of its kind, this truck significantly improves our ability to communicate and analyze conditions at a mine site. I believe we can and will do more for the safety of our miners.

Today is no doubt another difficult day for the family and friends of the brave men we lost on the afternoon of April 5, 2010. I hope that the Report will bring some closure to their families. They and all West Virginians have my commitment that we will do all we can to make sure that a disaster like this never happens again. In honor of those we lost, I ask that all West Virginians take a moment of silent reflection in their honor.”