WASHINGTON – In an especially deadly year in America's coal mines, President Bush signed a bill into law Thursday designed to give miners a better chance of surviving should disaster strike.
"Thanks to modern technology and equipment, we've come a long way from the days when a miner would take a canary into the coal mines," Bush said. "Yet events in recent months have reminded us that mining is dangerous work."
Thirty-three coal miners have been killed on the job this year, up from 22 for all of 2005.
"I hope you know that your fallen mining brothers are with us here today in spirit," Bush told an audience that included relatives of miners killed in the Sago mine accident and its sole survivor, Randal McCloy Jr.
Twelve trapped miners died in January in that accident in West Virginia.
The new law will require miners to have two hours' worth of emergency oxygen with them while they work, instead of just one hour. Mine operators also must store extra oxygen along escape routes underground.
And mine rescue teams will be required to be located within an hour of each mine, rather than two hours away.
Within three years, coal companies also have to put new communications and miner tracking systems in place.
Bush put in a plug for his nominee to head the agency in charge of mine safety, Richard Stickler. The former coal company executive and mine safety chief for the state of Pennsylvania has run into staunch Democratic opposition in the Senate.
"To implement this new legislation, we need effective and experienced leadership at the Mine Safety and Health Administration," Bush said.