West Virginia Mine Accident Could Spur New Regulations

By | April 9, 2010

The U.S. mining industry may face additional regulations following this week’s deadly explosion at a West Virginia coal mine.

Key lawmakers have vowed to look into the accident at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine, which killed at least 25 people, and to take action if necessary.

The White House on Thursday said it has asked federal mine safety officials to provide their initial assessment of the disaster next week and to offer suggestions for steps the government should take to prevent these accidents in the future.

The House Education and Labor Committee plans to hold a hearing on the accident, although no date has been set. The committee’s chairman, Democrat George Miller, introduced legislation in 2007 that would have required companies to provide more protections for miners. The bill stalled after passing the House in early 2008, however.

“We know there are things in the law that needed to be improved even before this tragedy,” said Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the committee. “Unfortunately mine health safety laws are passed in the blood of dead miners.”

Miller will wait until more information is gathered about the incident before deciding what actions to take, but more legislation is “one of the possibilities,” Albright said.

While the recent push for increased mining safety faltered, lawmakers are likely to be even more determined to address the issue in the aftermath of this accident.

“There’s no way for Congress to walk away from this,” said Kevin Book, an energy analyst at ClearView Energy Partners. “They’re going to have to hold hearings with an intent to legislate.”

Any mining safety bill will likely include provisions forcing companies to invest more in things such as infrastructure and ventilation systems, Book said. The mining industry can also expect tougher enforcement from the Mining Safety and Health Administration, according to Book.

Carol Raulston, a spokeswoman for the National Mining Association, said it is too soon to consider new regulations.

“We don’t know what contributed to this tragic situation, so it’s really speculative to say if that then points to additional or changed regulations,” Raulston said.

“We’re hoping to learn from the investigation and try to find a productive pathway from there,” she added.

Congress tightened mining safety regulations in 2006 following an explosion that killed 12 miners in the Sago mine, run by International Coal Group, in Buckhannon, West Virginia.

(Editing by Jim Marshall)

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