WASHINGTON – Fresh from a legislative victory at home, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin on Tuesday pressed Congress to follow his state's example and pass new federal protections for coal miners.
"I never want to tell another child that I'm not sure if Daddy has enough air," Manchin said. "I don't want to tell another wife that we haven't found him yet but that we're still looking."
Manchin joined West Virginia's congressional delegation in calling for new safety laws and demanding that the agency that oversees coal mine safety be more aggressive about enforcing existing laws.
Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W. Va., said Chao could take immediate steps such as ordering coal operators to put additional oxygen supplies in mines now. "She can do that on her own," he said.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration, a subagency of the Labor Department, has launched a review of oxygen supplies in mines after previously withdrawing a Clinton-era proposal that would have studied the oxygen packs and possibly led to new rules governing them.
Manchin's visit to Washington came one day after West Virginia lawmakers approved legislation aimed at improving mine safety, an overhaul triggered by the deaths of 14 West Virginia miners this month.
In a span of eight hours Monday, state lawmakers reviewed and passed Manchin's proposals to better track miners underground, prompt faster emergency responses and stockpile oxygen for trapped miners.
Miners are currently required to be equipped with oxygen packs lasting about an hour. In the Jan. 2 Sago mine explosion, there was evidence the miners used their packs, however it took rescuers more than 40 hours to haul them out of the mine.
"No miner should ever, ever be asphyxiated in a mine," Manchin said.