W.Va. governor asks for halt in coal production for safety checks | VailDaily.com

W.Va. governor asks for halt in coal production for safety checks

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Gov. Joe Manchin called for all coal companies in West Virginia to halt production and perform safety checks after two more mine workers were killed Wednesday in separate accidents.”We’re going to check for unsafe conditions, and we’re going to correct any unsafe conditions before we mine another lump of coal,” Manchin said.A miner was killed at an underground mine when a wall support popped loose, said Caryn Gresham, a spokeswoman for the state Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training.The second fatality occurred at a surface mine when a bulldozer struck a gas line, sparking a fire and killing the operator, said Dirk Fillpott, a spokesman for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.The deaths brought to 16 the number of mining-related fatalities in West Virginia since Jan. 2.”West Virginia remains committed to putting the safety of every one of our miners first and foremost, far above any production that might come from that mining operation,” Manchin said at a news conference.The governor said he did not know how long it would take the state’s 229 surface and 315 underground mines to conduct safety checks, which would include reviewing mine conditions, safety checklists and designated escape routes.As he issued his call for a production shutdown, the governor was joined by Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association.”If you don’t have a safe mine, you don’t have a productive mine,” Raney said.West Virginia is the nation’s second-largest coal producer, after Wyoming. It was not immediately clear how much a shutdown might cost the state’s industry, Raney said.Ted Pile, a spokesman for Alpha Natural Resources, which operates several mines in the state, said he had not heard of the governor’s request.Pile added that the deaths were “tragic news. … We had made some progress in mine safety but we now have to refocus our efforts.”Calls to other coal companies that operate in the state were not immediately returned.The identities of the two mine workers killed Wednesday were not released pending notification of their relatives.Gresham said the underground miner died at Long Branch Energy’s No. 18 Tunnel Mine in Boone County, in southwestern West Virginia. He was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead, she said.The bulldozer operator died at the Black Castle Surface Mine, also in Boone County, Gresham said. Black Castle is operated by Elk Run Coal Co., a subsidiary of Massey Energy Co. The death was the third at a Massey subsidiary in less than two weeks.The fatalities followed the deaths of a dozen miners from carbon monoxide poisoning after a Jan. 2 explosion at International Coal Group Inc.’s Sago Mine. The explosion trapped the men hundreds of feet underground. The sole survivor, Randal McCloy Jr., is recovering in a rehabilitation hospital.Less than three weeks after Sago, two miners died in a belt line fire at Massey’s Aracoma Coal Alma No. 1 mine in Melville, about 180 miles away.Manchin responded to those earlier tragedies by pushing a state mine-safety bill through the Legislature in a single day. The bill requires coal companies to provide miners with emergency communicators and tracking devices, and to store extra air supplies underground. That legislation also mandates that companies report mine accidents within 15 minutes or face a $100,000 penalty.West Virginia’s congressional delegation followed up those efforts Wednesday. The delegation introduced legislation that would require the agency in charge of the nation’s underground coal mines to toughen fines, enforce existing rules and issue new ones to give trapped miners a better chance of surviving fires, explosions and cave-ins.U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., helped draft that legislation and in a speech in the House on Wednesday noted that two more miners had been killed in the state.”The death toll must stop,” he said. “This is scandalous.”Vail, Colorado

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