CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Gov. Joe Manchin on Monday proposed adding emergency shelters to the array of new safety gear mandated in response to what has become one of the deadliest years in West Virginia's underground mines.
The governor wants all 315 underground mines to contain at least one rescue chamber stocked with enough air, food and water for at least 24 hours.
Manchin's shelter proposal would amend emergency rules filed earlier this month as part of the state's new mine safety law.
The governor persuaded legislators to pass the safety legislation after the deadly accidents. So far, 16 miners have died in accidents this year.
In Canada, airtight chambers packed with food, water, and extra air supplies helped 72 miners survive a fire in their underground potash mine last month.
But some safety experts have said rescue chambers that work in a potash mine might not work for coal mines, where there is an ample, long-lasting supply of fuel in the coal seams, plus the threat of secondary explosions.
Under the proposal, the governor wants to allow mine operators to stockpile two breathing devices per miner underground instead of the required 16 after a rescue chamber is installed.
The state Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training would have to approve the changes to the emergency rules.
Once the rules go into effect, operators would have submit plans to meet the requirements within 60 days. State officials can shut down mines that fail to follow the rules.
Manchin also wants to create a six-member Mine Safety Technology Task Force, composed equally of labor and management representatives, to study the feasibility of all the proposed devices.
"It's going to be an issue that needs to be considered," said Carte Goodwin, the governor's general counsel. "There are only a few manufacturers that make approved devices."
The president of the West Virginia Coal Association, whose group represents producers of 80 percent of the state's coal, said the task force would help resolve a key concern about new emergency devices.
"The overall tone and scope of the amended rules, from what I saw, were clearly an improvement over the initially filed rules," Bill Raney said.
All devices and the rescue chambers must first be approved by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.