FACED with grieving families of dead coal miners twice in three weeks, Gov. Joe Manchin promised change Saturday. His staff had already drafted legislation when the Logan County mine fire trapped two men last week. Shortly after the miners were confirmed dead, Manchin promised to ask the Legislature to require coal operators to:
s Call for help immediately after an accident.
s Keep extra breathing packs in their mines.
s Give miners location devices that can pinpoint a minerís location underground and communicate with the surface in an emergency.
Heís taking the same message to Congress. Coal company and union leaders have voiced support for the ideas, although specific requirements are not yet settled.
Fantastic. Manchinís impulse to make some good come from these tragedies is exactly the right thing to do.
As welcome as these measures are, they address conditions only after a miner is trapped. More must be done to prevent miners from being trapped in the first place.
West Virginians and the nation must remember that there are laws and policies already in effect. If existing safety rules had been followed and if industry and the federal government were not constantly trying to weaken safety oversight, these deaths might have been avoided.
ICGís Sago mine in Upshur County had a long history of safety violations, including many considered significant by mine safety experts. Yet the mine continued to operate. After the explosion that trapped 13 men inside, calls for help were woefully slow. Mine rescue teams who might have made a difference had they arrived sooner were not adequately assembled until the miners had been trapped for 11 hours.
At Aracomaís Alma No. 1 mine in Logan County, the safety record was better. But the belt where the deadly fire started was in a fresh-air intake. The company was allowed to take this shortcut by a new Bush administration rule. In the event of a fire, the practice can carry flames and deadly gases to the minersí work area.
It is outrageous that minersí safety and communication relies on the same technology used in the days of Farmington. The state and nation must certainly do more to safeguard trapped miners.
But society also has a duty to prevent them from being trapped in the first place. Pass the new laws. But industry must be required to follow rules enacted after previous mine disasters. It is outrageous that miners and their grieving families must teach the nation the same lessons again and again.