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House Passes Coal Mine Safety Act

February 13, 2011

By Alyx Duckett
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A Senate bill that would bring the state’s Coal Mine Safety Act up to current federal law and industry standards has been passed by the House.

On a 96-0 vote Friday, the House approved Senate Bill 1310, sponsored by Sen. Phillip P. Puckett, D-Tazewell. SB 1310 calls for expanded safety and emergency response plans as well as updated electrical requirements. The bill also would add a penalty for anyone who gives false information during investigations by state authorities.

“This addresses plans for air flow, and that’s the single most important thing I believe,” Puckett said. “It would make sure that a plan that’s put in place is consistent with clearing methane gas out of the mine.”

Those plans would include erecting curtains in different areas of the mine to block off air and keep it from flowing the wrong way. This keeps methane gas moving out of the mine – a critical component of mine safety.

Puckett said the bill resulted from the West Virginia coal mining tragedy in April 2010, when 29 miners were killed. Investigators found that the mine, operated by Massey Energy Co. of Richmond, had failed to follow methane gas precautions.

After the West Virginia mining disaster, Virginia’s mining codes were examined to see if they contained safety issues that needed updating, Puckett said.

“When the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy began to look into that, they found some safety issues that had not been updated in regards to the Federal Mines Safety Act,” Puckett said.

He said the federal law has had significant changes during the past five years. SB 1310, which previously passed the Senate unanimously, would bring Virginia codes up to the federal standards.

House Bill 2471 is companion legislation sponsored by Delegate Charles D. Poindexter, R-Glade Hill. HB 2471 was approved unanimously by the House. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources.

The largest area of deep mining in Virginia is in Buchanan County. Most mining in Dickenson, Russell, Tazewell and Wise counties is surface mining.

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