Feb 23, 2012- Closed-Door Talks on W.Va. Mine Safety Bill

By: Michael Hyland
By: Michael Hyland

Lawmakers and interest groups met behind closed doors again Thursday in an effort to sort through issues related to the mine safety bill proposed in response to the Upper Big Branch disaster.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Lawmakers and interest groups met behind closed doors again Thursday in an effort to sort through issues related to the mine safety bill proposed in response to the Upper Big Branch disaster.

The bill made it to the House floor Tuesday but was pulled later in the day after industry groups raised concerns about some of its provisions.

Thursday’s meetings came as the state’s Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training released its final report into the causes of the April 2010 blast, which killed 29 miners.

"I don't want to see another family go through what these 29 families here have (gone) through," says Clay Mullins, who lost his brother, Rex, in the explosion.

Del. Mike Caputo (D-Marion), who is also with the United Mine Workers of America, is one of the people involved in the negotiations over the bill.

"I want to be clear, it looks like we may be making some tremendous progress in those (issues)," says Caputo.

He pointed to three key components being debated:

-The bill calls on higher-ranking managers, such as mine superintendents or owners/operators to sign off on safety reports. But, industry groups point out those people may not be at a mine everyday.

"My main concern is they cannot say they didn't look at that book," says Caputo.

-It also lets a victim's family member pick someone to represent them during a death investigation. The industry worried that would mean union representatives at non-union mines.

-There's also discussion about when methane levels should trigger equipment being shutdown.

"We're not going to pass a bill that does nothing. If the bill will not protect the health and safety of the miners, then we're not going to pass it," says Caputo.

The House has until Wednesday to pass bills over to the Senate. Caputo says since the bill was read the first time Tuesday, negotiations would need to be wrapped up by next Tuesday, so that it can be read a second time and potentially passed by Wednesday’s deadline.

"I hope there's some changes in the law, I hope there's changes to the way…the state conduct their investigations," says Mullins.

Even if the bill passes, there are still things it doesn't do which Mullins would like to see change, including giving more power to state investigators to shut down dangerous mines.
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