"As we all know, the regulatory process is not something where you snap a finger and finalize action tomorrow," Main said. "It takes time."
Plans for the dust rule were in the works prior to the April 5 mine disaster, and the proposed rule was issued by MSHA in late October. Public hearings are being held this month and next month, with a written comment period set to expire at the end of February. MSHA's published agenda does not list any deadlines or goals for actions beyond the end of the comment period.
Last month, MSHA issued one of two proposed rules that were added to the agency's agenda after the Upper Big Branch disaster. It would require company safety exams to make note of any health or safety violations that are discovered, whether or not the company believes the violations are a hazard. The existing rule requires only that conditions the company believes are "hazards" be noted and corrected.
"When I see the number of citations being issued at underground mines, I think it's a bit outrageous that these problems aren't being found and fixed by mine operators," Main said Wednesday.
After Upper Big Branch, MSHA also issued an emergency temporary standard that requires mine operators to use spread more crushed stone around underground mine workers to try to reduce the chance for coal-dust explosions like the one agency investigators believe occurred at Upper Big Branch. That rule -- coming after years of warnings by scientists that existing rules were outdated and too weak -- is scheduled to be finalized by June.
Later this month, MSHA is scheduled to issue proposed changes to its "pattern of violations" enforcement rules and a new proposal to require mine operators to use special "proximity devices" meant to keep miners from being run over by fast-moving underground equipment.
In June, MSHA is set to propose new rules to how it sets civil penalties for safety violations and to require companies to have certain types of health and safety programs. In July, MSHA says it will issue rules regarding exposure to silica dust and to require mine operators to submit additional corporate information to help the agency keep track of companies or company officials with bad safety records.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.