CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's mine safety director on Tuesday offered lawmakers no answers for the state's string of three coal-mining deaths in a week, and acknowledged that his agency is behind on meeting important legislative mandates.
"I wish I could answer, and tell you what the problem is," said Eugene White, director of the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training. "If I could, I probably wouldn't be the director. I'd be a consultant, and I'd be rich."
During a briefing in the House of Delegates chamber, White told lawmakers his agency was on schedule implementing new requirements for drug testing of coal miners, and has already stripped five workers of their mining licenses.
But White acknowledged, as The Charleston Gazette has reported, that efforts to implement new standards for methane monitoring and to enforce tougher coal-dust control standards were behind schedule. White said he has tried to make progress on those projects -- mandates of the mine safety bill pushed last year by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin -- since he took over as director on Jan. 1.
"I knew we had some issues we had to deal with," White told lawmakers. "We had to move."
White said his agency finally issued a proposed rule on the tougher coal-dust controls standards earlier this month, and is finalizing plans to begin citing violations of those standards.
Also administration officials said that they are "still in discussions" with industry and labor over implementing tougher requirements for shutting down mining equipment when explosive methane gas is detected.
House Majority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion and a United Mine Workers representative, said he could accept that the methane monitoring rules were a "work in progress," despite a legislative mandate that the rules be finalized by last October.