CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nine days after Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine blew up, Gov. Joe Manchin issued an executive order that tightened West Virginia's requirements for mine operators to control explosive coal dust in underground mines.
Manchin ordered the coal industry to use more crushed stone to keep down the dust, and directed state inspectors to step up efforts aimed at preventing mine explosions.
"They'll start with the mines that have been cited repeatedly for these combustion risks during the last year, and take immediate steps to ensure compliance with the law," Manchin said at the time.
But in the five months since Manchin's order, inspectors from the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training haven't cited a single mine for violating the new "rock-dusting" standards the governor instituted.
Why not? Because state inspectors haven't actually taken any samples of underground mine dust, Manchin administration officials revealed this week.
"We do very little rock dust sampling," Ron Wooten, Manchin's mine safety director, said in an interview.
In a follow-up e-mail through his agency's media spokeswoman, Wooten added, "To my knowledge, the OMHST has not taken any rock-dust samples during an inspection. We do take rock-dust samples during special investigations, when deemed necessary."
The spokeswoman, Leslie Fitzwater, did not identify any such special investigations -- or any rock-dust samples taken by the state or violations issued by the state since Manchin's April 14 executive order.
After the Sago Mine Disaster and the Aracoma Mine fire in 2006, Manchin received national attention for moving quickly to pass landmark legislation aimed at improving systems to rescue miners trapped by fires or explosions.
In a new ad promoting Manchin's U.S. Senate campaign, the governor is shown -- clad in a hardhat -- standing with a group of miners. United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts appears in the ad and says, "Joe Manchin worked with us to pass historic mine safety laws. He's always been there for us."
In the weeks after the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, there was talk from the governor's office about calling a special session to pass more mine safety legislation. Safety advocates gave the governor proposals to, among other things, toughen the ability of state inspectors to hold corporate officers accountable for violations. But so far, Manchin has not introduced any new legislation and the idea of a special session on mine safety has been dropped.
Manchin spokesman Melvin Smith said the governor is waiting for state investigators to complete their review of the Upper Big Branch explosion to seek any changes in state mine safety laws.