A rule that could toughen the limits on methane gas levels in West Virginia coal mines remains stalled as state officials debate both definitions and a timetable for implementation.
The State Journal said last week’s meeting of the state Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety failed to reach a quorum because three members were out of town. The United Mine Workers of America confirmed that the representatives were in St. Louis for a protest related to the bankruptcy of Patriot Coal.
That bankruptcy has jeopardized pension and health care benefits for some 20,000 retirees and dependents.
But board administrator Joel Watts says work on the new rule may not have been finished even if they’d been present.
Methane is explosive and considered a threat when it reaches a 5 percent to 15 percent concentration in the atmosphere.
Federal rules require mining equipment to shut down at methane concentrations of 2 percent or more. Proposed state regulations would cut that to 1.25 percent if the levels are sustained.
But Watts says the definition of “sustained” is still in discussion, as are timetables to retrofit equipment and implement the rule.
The methane rule was approved in legislation nearly a year ago, but state regulators can’t implement it until the board finishes writing the rules. The board missed that October deadline.
The West Virginia Coal Association said operators can’t comply with the new standard with the existing monitors on mining machines.
“There’s still a majority of members very hopeful that we can develop a set of rules that make sense on this topic,” said Chris Hamilton’s the association’s vice president. “We missed the deadline, but it’s always best to be a little late than not complete the task.”