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Rockefeller, Manchin introduce mine safety bill

U.S. Sens Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., introduced a bill Wednesday to improve mine safety that stems from the 2010 Upper Big Branch tragedy.

It's the fourth time the Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act has been introduced, according to new releases from the senators.

An additional 24 miners have died in West Virginia since the 29 men were killed April 5, 2010 at UBB, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Rockefeller said some safety measures have improved since UBB, but more is needed.

"We owe it to families of the victims at Upper Big Branch, and to the miners of today and tomorrow, to pass mine safety legislation that moves us more strongly ahead," Rockefeller said in a news release.

The legislation would give whistleblowers more protection, increase penalties for violations knowingly committed, prohibit mine operators from keeping separate books and improve federal and state coordination on safety efforts.

Safety improvements since UBB include requiring mining companies to disclose safety violations to shareholders; cracking down mines cited repeatedly; and new federal standards for rock dusting, according to the news release.

"Every miner should wake up in the morning and expect to come home safely to their loved ones at night," Manchin said in the release. "That is why we need to continue to improve mine safety so that our miners' lives are never in jeopardy."

Local legislators and officials agree there have been some safety improvements but more are needed.

Many have questioned the administration of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for its delay in enforcing higher rock dust standards. There are also still issues with technology needed to effectively shut down machinery if there is too much methane in the air.

The combination of methane and excess coal dust played a role in the UBB explosion.


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