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Manchin still backs mine rescue gear

Gov. Joe Manchin still supports new requirements to install additional rescue gear in West Virginiaís underground coal mines, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

ďItís technology that exists and technology that we believe in,Ē said Lara Ramsburg, Manchinís communications director.

On Monday, Manchinís new acting mine safety director, James M. Dean, had questioned whether the new equipment worked.

In his first interview, Dean refused to offer specific criticisms of the equipment, or to publicly discuss the areas of mine safety he feels can be improved.

Ramsburg said that Deanís comments do not indicate any change at all in Manchinís support for requiring the equipment.

Last month, Manchin pushed through legislation to require additional oxygen supplies, wireless communications and miner tracking devices in the stateís underground mines.

The governor acted after the deaths of 12 workers at the Sago Mine disaster and two other miners in a fire at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine.

Other coalfield states have followed Manchinís lead, introducing similar bills, and West Virginiaís congressional delegation introduced legislation to require the equipment nationwide.

But some in the coal industry have questioned the wireless communications and tracking gear, saying that the devices are not reliable.

The U.S. Department of Laborís Mine Safety and Health Administration has announced plans to require additional emergency oxygen in mines across the country, but MSHA has declined to require wireless communications and tracking devices.

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and acting MSHA chief David G. Dye have both questioned whether the devices are reliable.

Some mines in the United States use the wireless communications equipment, and both devices are widely used in other countries. Various MSHA officials have touted the devices in speeches and regulatory reports, but the agency has refused numerous requests over the years to require that industry use them.

In West Virginia, there is still no clear timeline for when mine operators must equip their mines with additional oxygen, communications equipment and tracker devices.

When the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training wrote rules to implement Manchinís legislation, agency officials did not specify a date for when the equipment must be in the mines.

After Doug Conaway resigned as state mine safety director, Manchin hired Dean on loan from West Virginia University until a permanent replacement can be found.

The three- to six-month transition period could be crucial.

Mine companies must submit plans for complying with the new law, and a complete review of state mine safety rules is being conducted.

Ramsburg said Deanís earlier comments were meant to make clear that no safety equipment is perfect.

ďI think what he was trying to do was make sure people understand that this technology does not work 100 percent of the time, just like a cell phone doesnít work 100 percent of the time,Ē Ramsburg said. ďWe believe itís worth doing if it can save a life.Ē

To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.


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