Coal Tattoo

Gov. Tomblin’s mine safety bill finally introduced

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin waves to the crowd Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012 prior to delivering his state of the state address at the Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

UPDATED: The state mine safety office’s spokeswoman, Leslie Fitzwater says today:

The WVOMHS&T report [on the UBB Disaster]  is in the final stages of completion, and we expect to release it by the end of February 2012.

Nearly three weeks into the legislative session, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s mine safety bill — promised in the State of the State address — has finally been introduced. The Senate version is SB 448, and I’m told the House version should come out today.

Of course, the House leadership has its own legislation, and it will be interesting to see if lawmakers and the governor insist on weakening the language in one or a combination of these bills to ensure that the coal industry is on board with the changes — or if Delegate Mike Caputo can manage to get the Legislature to focus not on compromise but on what’s best for miners’ health and safety.

A few points to consider about the governor’s legislation:

–In expanding the requirements for new miners to work as supervised apprentices, the bill increases from 90 days to 120 days the length of time “red hat” miners must work within sight and sound of an experienced miner. The state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training had wanted to increase that apprentice period to 180 days.

— The bill does not close a loophole that allows mine operators to not report serious accidents to the mine safety office — the folks who dispatch mine rescue teams — within 15 minutes, as long as they call local 911 dispatchers within that time period. The language proposed allows calls to the state’s industrial accident hotline to come 15 minutes after that initial notification to 911.

As we’ve discussed on this blog before (see here and especially here), it’s not clear what any of these bills will actually do to deal with the root of mine safety enforcement problems: The control of the political process, and therefore captive regulatory agencies, by the coal industry.

Speaking of agencies, one last interesting thing here is that, while we’ve seen reports from special investigator Davitt McAteer, the United Mine Workers, and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, we have not yet seen a report on the state mine safety office’s investigation of Upper Big Branch.  The last I heard, state investigators were to complete their report by the end of January, but it was not clear when it might be made public.