GOP pushes to strip safety measures from West Va mining law

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Republicans cast forward Tuesday with an overhaul of mine security regulation that may strip the state of its potential to quote coal firms for unsafe working situations.

They blocked an effort by Democrats to derail the measure. That got here a day after dozens of miners and former miners gathered on the Capitol on Monday evening, helmets in hand, to testify in opposition to the invoice. The listening to occurred the identical day a veteran coal miner died in southern West Virginia. He was pinned by an air drill.

In the course of the listening to, miners stated the laws preserve them safer.

“Each one in all these legal guidelines that’s written, state and federal, they’re not wrote by ink. They’re wrote by blood,” stated Barry Brown, a disabled coal miner who labored underground for 32 years. “Each one in all these legal guidelines has blood on them. Putting off the state division and their enforcement, I believe, can be the more serious factor that this state might do.”

The invoice is scheduled for a closing studying within the Home on Wednesday and nonetheless should be thought of within the Senate. It primarily would strip the state workplace of miners’ well being, security and coaching of its potential to implement legal guidelines — actually, it eliminates all enforcement language from state code.

As an alternative of going to mines for inspections, inspectors will go for “visits” and make “suggestions” as a substitute of “orders.” There can be no extra “investigations,” simply “evaluations.”

The proposal would take away nearly all penalties mining firms may face for security violations. Below present legislation, firms can face hundreds of {dollars} of fines and even jail time for failing to implement security measures. The state can even shut down parts of a mine or a complete mine.

One of many co-sponsors, Republican Del. Adam Burkhammer, stated he respectfully disagrees with the miners.

“I recognize their ardour,” he stated.

Burkhammer, who works as a contractor with the West Virginia Miner’s Well being and Security program, stated a “tradition shift” is required to nudge the main focus of inspectors extra towards coaching than enforcement. He stated there’ll nonetheless be the identical variety of inspectors within the state with the identical jurisdiction on the mines, “however you are going to have a special outlook once you stroll onto the job. You are going to be inspecting for issues you could practice on.”

Burkhammer asserts it might make firms really feel freer to carry up considerations to the state about attainable security violations if they don’t seem to be “prone to being fined for a number of thousand {dollars}.” The invoice’s sponsors even have argued that the existence of federal inspectors makes state inspectors redundant.

However Tony Oppegard, a Kentucky lawyer who has represented miners in security instances for many years, stated the invoice would do nothing to enhance security for miners. He referred to as it an “anti-safety invoice masquerading as a security invoice.”

Leaving solely the federal safeguards in place, he added, “mainly it cuts safety for coal miners in half.”

He stated the true motivation for the invoice is the underside line.

“In the event you’re an advisory company, it’s inexpensive for the operator, as a result of they don’t have to fret about paying any fines,” Oppegard stated. “They actually don’t have to fret about their mine being shut down for any motive.”

There are 511 mines, quarries and coal dealing with services in West Virginia, in response to the state. Below state legislation, inspectors are required to go to every mine of their area no less than 4 occasions a yr.

Coal mine operators and miners can not legally be given advance discover of an inspection — a legislation that’s punishable by a effective of $15,000 or one to 5 years in jail. The inspector should be accompanied by an organization consultant and a miner consultant.

The proposed invoice removes the requirement for the minimal variety of “visits” that should happen a yr and the mandate that mines can’t be warned forward of time about inspections. It additionally cuts the requirement {that a} miner consultant be allowed to attend.

Kelly Blair, a Charleston-based state inspector who misplaced his oldest brother and uncle in mining fatalities, stated miners aren’t going to strategy him about considerations if there may be somebody from the corporate standing by.

“In the event you take away my potential to implement, then I can’t do my job,” he stated. “I can’t defend the miners.”

Steve “Zimmy” Zimmerman, a security committee member for the Harrison County Coal Mine, stated when he writes up complaints to mine administration and they’re ignored, he has no recourse. However when he takes it to state inspectors, they will cite the corporate.

“This all comes right down to the underside greenback: When the corporate has to pay for such situations, the hazardous situations get remedied, they get fastened. The miners are protected.”

Zimmerman was amongst a gaggle of somber miners huddled collectively, praying after Monday’s public listening to for the miner who died. He had 20 years’ expertise.

“We wish all our miners to come back dwelling,” Zimmerman stated.