Mine Safety Bill Nears Passage in West Virginia

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin thanked members of the House of Delegates for unanimously passing it Feb. 28 and said he hopes for quick State Senate passage. Its most controversial provisions concern drug testing of miners.

House Bill 4351, a mine safety bill now before the Judiciary Committee in West Virginia's State Senate, is a direct response to the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in April 2010. It is a comprehensive measure that includes new regulations on rock dusting, raises fines, creates an anonymous tip line for miners to report safety issues, expands the scope of preshift examinations, revises mine ventilation requirements, and increases mine operators' responsibility for monitoring and responding to excess methane gas levels in coal mines.

The bill unanimously passed the West Virginia House of Delegates on Feb. 28. Its most controversial provisions concern drug testing. Mine operators would have to conduct testing during inspections or investigations upon reasonable suspicion, and coal mine operators would have to test miners before employment, on rehire, or upon a transfer. Coal mine operators would be required to notify the director of the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training of failed screening tests and certain screening policy violations.

The bill also would permit surviving family members to place a representative on panels that investigate mine fatalities. The bill passed the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee on March 1 and then had a second reading that day in the State Senate Judiciary Committee.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin thanked House members for passing it and said he hopes for quick State Senate passage. Time is of the essence: The current 60-day legislative session will end at midnight March 10.

"Today, the House of Delegates passed House Bill 4351, one of the most significant pieces of mine safety legislation in recent memory," Tomblin said. "My staff and I have worked tirelessly over the past several weeks with the affected stakeholders and the legislative leadership, including the speaker of the House of Delegates and president of the State Senate, to advance my comprehensive mine safety legislation towards final passage. Working with Speaker Thompson and President Kessler, we have improved and expanded HB 4351, and I'm confident that passage of the reforms in HB 4351 will not only make our coal mines safer but will also save lives. I look forward to continuing to work with the State Senate to pass this important piece of legislation and to the day it arrives on my desk for signature."

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