"This legislation does that. No longer can they hide behind their title and act like everything's in good shape."
The measure isn't perfect.
In the UBB disaster, excess methane and coal dust combined to create the massive explosion. Federal law requires mining equipment to shut down automatically if methane concentrations reach 2 percent. State law says it's illegal to mine if they reach 1 percent, and the bill calls for methane monitors to shut down the equipment once levels reach 1.25 percent.
There's no technology to actually make that happen, Smith and Caputo said.
"It's not on the market, you can't buy it. So how do you use it when you can't buy it?" Smith said.
Caputo and others say the Tomblin administration is dragging its feet implementing higher rock dust standards.
"Rock dust is our only barrier to prevent explosions. Rock dust is a must, standards must be upheld. Those are things we need to move on ASAP," Caputo said.
There's a grisly truth to coal mining fatalities: Every death is a lesson. With every death, the industry and lawmakers alike learn ways to better protect workers.
UBB was no exception, said Mine Safety and Health Administration chief Joe Main during the West Virginia Coal Association's annual mining symposium at the Charleston Civic Center on March 7.
"The tragedy caused us all to take a deeper look at the weaknesses in the safety net expected to protect the nation's miner, pointed out that the culture affecting mine safety and health had to change, and that MSHA needed to more aggressively use its tools under the Mine Act to enforce the law," Main said.
Main said that after the tragedy, the agency began increasing compliance notifications, implementing enhanced enforcement programs and streamlining the agency's administrative structure. It also tried to cut down on the backlog of citations pending litigation.
No rule or regulation can replace a miner. Family and friends of the 29 killed at UBB still hurt, said Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone. Stollings, a doctor, remembers going to the mine shortly after learning of the explosion. He wanted to see if he could help in either of his professional capacities.
Coal miners are resilient, but Stollings said his constituents aren't happy with weak safety regulations.
"I think some of them are kind of fatalistic: What God wants to happen will happen. And I'm sure that the immediate family members are still devastated and disappointed probably, and when they read things that it hasn't gotten much safer, I'd say they get mad," Stolling said.
Tomblin is asking for a moment of silence at 3:01 p.m. today, the time of the explosion. He'll also have a ribbon-placing ceremony at the miners memorial on the Capitol grounds.
Although the explosion happened hundreds of miles from Smith's mine, the blast resonated deeply with him and his fellow miners. Every miner knows someone who has been in a dangerous situation, and many have seen friends die on the job.
But increased mine safety starts with the miner.
"The only one that can get a handle on it is the coal industry, ourselves," Smith said. "You're not going to save us, the politicians aren't going to save us. We're going to have to start saving ourselves. We're going to have to start being more responsible, start looking out more for each other, and start taking it personal."
Business editor Jared Hunt contributed to this report.