SUTTON, W.Va. -- Members of a state board have again put off making a major decision that is required before West Virginia inspectors can begin enforcing tougher methane monitoring requirements contained in Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's 2012 mine safety legislation.
Rules to implement the methane monitoring language were on the agenda for a Tuesday meeting of the state Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety. But the board, meeting at a hotel in Sutton, never took up the matter.
"It's disappointing that they haven't addressed it yet," said Tomblin administration Deputy Commerce Secretary Joshua Jarrell, who attended the meeting. "We've encouraged them to address that rule, but it's an independent board."
The state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training, which would enforce the rule issued by the board, is part of the state Department of Commerce.
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 2012 -- to write the rule.
Board members were unable to act on the rule at Tuesday's meeting because one of the board members, United Mine Workers representative Ted Hapney, was absent. Earlier this year, the board was also unable to act on the matter because of member absences.
Under state law, all six voting members of the board must be present for votes on any substantive matter. The six voting members are evenly split between industry and labor representatives appointed by the governor after the coal industry and the UMW recommend them.
But even before the member absences, the board had repeatedly delayed action on the methane monitoring rules.
The methane requirements are part of legislation supported by the governor, lawmakers, industry and labor. The legislation was billed as a response to the 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.
Generally, 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.