CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of a state board have again put off making a major decision that's required before West Virginia inspectors can begin enforcing tougher methane monitoring requirements contained in Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's 2012 mine safety legislation.
Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety members agreed to issue a proposed rule on the monitoring requirements, but said they would do so without actually including a key definition that lawmakers ordered the board to develop.
Board member Chris Hamilton, a vice president and lobbyist for the West Virginia Coal Association, said board members moved ahead without that definition because the rules have been "bogged down" for too long already.
"I am very concerned about the amount of time that has expired," Hamilton said during a meeting Tuesday morning in Charleston. "I think we ought to start on the rulemaking process."
The rules at issue are needed to implement the legislation's mandate to tighten the state's requirement for mining equipment to be automatically shut off when the explosive gas methane is detected underground.
Under the bill, board members had four months from the bill's effective date -- or by October -- to write the rule.
The legislation supported by the governor, lawmakers, industry and labor was billed as a response to disaster at the former Massey Energy Upper Big Branch Mine. On April 5, 2010, a small methane ignition at Upper Big Branch grew into a huge coal-dust-fueled explosion. Twenty-nine miners died, making it the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in nearly 40 years.
Coal operators are required to monitor underground mines for methane, which can explode when it is present in an amount between 5 percent and 15 percent of the air.