Coal Tattoo

Coal lobby wins another round on mine safety

We were reminded again just yesterday evening how thin the margin of error is in the coal-mining business, how easy it is for things to go wrong, and lives to needlessly be lost.

Yet we’ve seen example after example (see here, here and here) over the last few weeks of how the West Virginia Coal Association has been able to stall efforts to enforce new coal-mine safety requirements — with the help of the Tomblin administration. So it’s really not surprising that this is what I found once I had a chance to take a look at the details of the new Tomblin administration proposal for implementing increased fines for mine safety violations:

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s administration has softened a proposed rule aimed at increasing monetary fines for violations of state mine safety and health standards.

The proposal eliminates across-the-board civil penalty hikes the West Virginia Coal Association complained about, confining the increases only to fines of $500 or more.

When I talked to Coal Association Vice President Chris Hamilton last evening, he was pleased with the changes — and it’s no wonder, given that they appear aimed at addressing the coal lobby’s earlier complaints about last year’s proposal. Hamilton says that lawmakers never intended to force an across-the-board increase in mine safety fines — but since legislative leaders worked out details of the governor’s bill during closed-door negotiations, there’s really no way for the public to know if this is true or not …