Pennsylvania, West Virginia Miners Demand Safer Coal Mines

About 100 West Virginia and Pennsylvania coal miners gathered at a federal mine safety office Tuesday to demand stronger safety measures and better enforcement in the nation's coal mines.

The rally came a day after a Pennsylvania miner was killed in an explosion, bringing the number of coal-mine fatalities to 42 this year. Half of those deaths have been in West Virginia.

Members of the United Mine Workers gathered outside the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration's District 3 headquarters in Morgantown, where the agency's district managers were meeting.

Union spokesman Phil Smith said the miners want to meet with new MSHA chief Richard Stickler to discuss 17 proposed safety regulations that were scrapped by the Bush administration in 2001. Stickler, who started work Monday, did not attend the Morgantown meeting.

The proposals cover issues ranging from dust control and safety plans to improvements in mine rescue teams and emergency responses. The union also wants thorough testing of the air packs that miners depend on to keep them alive in fires, explosions and entrapments, as well as a timetable for hiring more MSHA inspectors and getting them underground.

Morgantown district manager Kevin Stricklin met with the miners and said he would pass along their concerns to Stickler.

Air packs have come under close scrutiny since the Jan. 2 Sago Mine disaster, which killed 12 West Virginia miners. Survivor Randal McCloy Jr. said at least four of his co-workers could not get their SR-100 air packs to work.

Recent tests by federal health officials concluded the SR-100, made by Pennsylvania-based CSE Corp., is prone to air hose damage and other problems, though the company defends its product as a lifesaving device.

President Bush appointed Stickler to head MSHA last week while Congress was in recess, even though the Senate had twice rejected him. The UMW joined some lawmakers in arguing the West Virginia native had spent too many years as a mining executive and failed to demonstrate adequate concern for safety problems.

Stickler worked for Beth Energy Mines of Pennsylvania for 30 years and briefly for Massey Energy before running the Pennsylvania Bureau of Deep Mine Safety from 1997 to 2003.