New Coal Mine Safety Rules

Thursday, February 8th 2007, 8:53 pm
By: News On 6

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ Underground coal mines must provide up to four days of breathable air to keep miners alive in emergencies such as an explosion or a tunnel collapse, federal regulators announced Thursday.

The requirement is part of a new law enacted after a string of deadly accidents, including the deaths of 12 miners at the Sago Mine in January 2006.

If miners cannot evacuate in an emergency, ``they need a safe location that maintains an adequate supply of breathable air for them to use while they await rescue,'' said Richard Stickler, director of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Mine operators have 30 days to submit plans to the agency, which has been criticized by the United Mine Workers labor union and members of Congress for not implementing the law quickly enough after it took effect in June.

A National Mining Association spokesman had not heard of the new requirement and declined to comment.

Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said he was concerned the rule would disrupt similar efforts by the state.

The state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training is in the process of approving underground shelters that can provide 48 hours of air. Mine operators have until mid-April to submit plans for installing the shelters.

``We're on a very thoughtful, practical path here in West Virginia,'' Raney said. ``Now all of a sudden we seem to get a press release that dictates different times, different dates, different things.''

In the Sago accident, one miner was killed in an explosion and 12 others were unable to escape. Eleven died of carbon monoxide poisoning and only one, Randal McCloy Jr., was rescued after more than 40 hours trapped underground.

A company trying to get a mine shelter approved in West Virginia said it supported the 96-hour rule from the beginning.

Ed Roscioli, chief executive of Allentown, Pa.-based ChemBio Shelter Inc., said he wants to give rescuers plenty of time so they don't risk their own lives out of fear that trapped miners have only a few hours of air.