A bill under consideration by the West Virginia Senate would eliminate mine safety enforcement as the White House considers weakening federal health and safety standards.
The Republican-backed legislation would strip regulators of their authority to write health and safety regulations, and mine operators wouldn’t be fined for violating those standards, reported the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
Inspectors would not be authorized to issue notices of violation unless they could prove “imminent danger” of deaths or serious harm, and they would be encouraged to target specific mine employees rather than mine operators or coal companies if such violations were found.
Mine safety experts are shocked by how broadly Senate Bill 582, which is backed by the mining industry, eliminates most enforcement of laws and rules put in place over many years in response to hundreds of coal miners’ deaths.
Mine operators would instead be required to follow U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration regulations — which President Donald Trump has promised to weaken at the request of the coal industry.
“It completely guts the state law,” said Josh Roberts, international health and safety director for the United Mine Workers union. “You’re taking back decades of laws.”
The Senate bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Randy Smith (R-Tucker), chairs the Energy, Industry and Mining Committee and works as a safety manager for Mettiki Coal, whose parent company, Alliance Resource Partners, donated heavily to his election campaign.
“If I could do it, I would conform with state laws and do away with federal laws,” Smith told the newspaper, “but that’s not going to happen. I would 10 times rather have the state agency telling us what to do instead of the federal.”
The bill would rewrite the state’s environmental regulations — including strip mine cleanup and waterway classifications — and consolidate mine safety boards into one panel.
Lawmakers might also add a controversial amendment rewriting water quality standards, a legislative committee lawyer told the newspaper.
“It’s breathtaking in its scope,” said Davitt McAteer, who ran the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Clinton administration.
“It is shocking that, after all these years and the numbers of West Virginians who have died in the mines, for the state to even consider this,” McAteer added. “The state needs to be involved in making sure we are protecting our citizens. This should be one of the primary goals of the state government.”
West Virginia led the nation in coal mining deaths last year, with four, and two miners have already died this year.