Board members have been unable to agree on a definition of "sustained period," and industry officials also said they discovered that all machine-mounted methane monitors would have to be redesigned and re-approved by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration before the new law could be implemented.
At Thursday's meeting, board members instructed board administrator Joel Watts to write up draft rules based on Thursday's discussion and present the language to the board at its March meeting.
However, records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act indicate Watts already provided identical language to board members before their October meeting -- in time to meet the legislative deadline -- only to have the board take no action.
"The board decided to delay any action on the methane rule," according to minutes of that Oct. 3, 2012, meeting.
The Tomblin administration's mine safety record is under increasing scrutiny, especially in the wake of four coal-mining deaths that occurred in the past month.
On Wednesday, following the latest of those deaths, the governor ordered all mine operators to hold one-time, one-hour safety talks with employees at the start of their next shift. No new inspections or enforcement initiatives were announced, and Tomblin said he sees no need for any additional mine safety legislation this session.
Echoing his previous remarks on the issue, Tomblin told reporters, "We've done everything that we possibly can to make sure that our miners are as safe as possible."
Along with delays in the methane-monitoring improvements, though, state regulators also have not begun enforcing tougher coal-dust control standards or increased fines that were other key provisions of the governor's mine safety legislation.
"Yes, after a slew of on-the-job fatalities in any industry, it is beneficial to take time to review safety standards to prevent further injury, but governor Tomblin's work doesn't stop there," said Tom O'Connor, a spokesman for the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health.
"What is really needed is for the Tomblin administration to take action on the critically important mining safety measures mandated by the 2012 legislation," O'Connor said. "What is not needed is further watering down of the rules under pressure from the mining industry.
"The rules are already overdue, and miners clearly are paying the price, as we have seen with the latest series of deaths."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.