Last week, with a bill set to move on the House floor, the legislation was pulled over complaints about it from the West Virginia Coal Association. The governor's office and legislative leadership quickly huddled behind closed doors with lobbyists from the coal association and the United Mine Workers.
On Friday, all sides reached a deal, in the form of a floor amendment that was approved Monday afternoon by voice vote.
Along with the drug-testing program, other key provisions of the bill include:
* Language to require mine superintendents to review the mine safety books in which foremen or "firebosses" are to record hazards discovered in various mine examinations and information about what was done to correct those problems. The agreed-to amendment allows this review to occur every two weeks, as opposed to every day, as required under the House Judiciary bill. The agreed-to amendment requires superintendents to sign the book, acknowledging that they have reviewed the fireboss records and "acted accordingly," but does not spell out what "acted accordingly means."
* A provision to increase maximum civil penalties for mine safety violations from $3,000 to $5,000. The House leadership's original bill would have increased the maximum fines to $10,000. Federal law sets maximum federal fines for most violations at $70,000.
* A section that removes the requirement that changes in mine ventilation plans -- key to controlling explosions and reducing black lung disease -- be approved by the state mine safety director before they're implemented. Under the current bill, state officials could comment on ventilation changes, but mine operators would only have to follow state recommendations if companies believed those recommendations were "practicable."
* Changes aimed at dealing with repeat violators of state mining law would give inspectors only one new tool: When they find operators who repeatedly violate standards and ignore hazards, inspectors can call in the state training board, which is then charged with instituting new educational programs at the mine in question.
During a two-day legislative hearing three weeks ago, McAteer offered little enthusiasm for the Legislature's approach. McAteer said the provision in the governor's bill was a "distraction" from efforts to prevent another mine disaster.
Among other things, McAteer urged the state to consider requiring every mine operator to implement the safety reforms -- new coal-dust meters and more advanced ventilation monitoring systems -- required in a deal between U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and Alpha Natural Resources, which bought Upper Big Branch after the disaster.
When they released their Upper Big Branch report last week, state mine safety office representatives said that they really hadn't looked at Goodwin's agreement to see whether it could be turned into an industry-wide initiative.
"We have not studied that in depth at the present time," Koerber said.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.