CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A regulation to implement a key portion of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's year-old mine safety legislation won't be submitted for final legislative approval until at least 2015, officials said Tuesday.
The Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety allowed its proposed rule to expire without finalizing it -- a move that means board members must essentially start the process over from the beginning.
"The proposal is expired, so we have to re-propose that rule," board administrator Joel Watts told board members during a meeting in Charleston.
Watts said that means whatever final rule the board eventually comes up with won't be submitted to lawmakers next year and would have to wait until the 2015 session for legislative approval.
The rules at issue are needed to allow the Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training to enforce a tightening of the state's requirement for mining equipment to be automatically shut off when the explosive gas methane is detected underground.
Under the governor's bill, the mine safety board -- made up of industry and labor representatives appointed by the governor -- was supposed to issue the rules by October 2012.
Board members had the matter on their agenda for Tuesday's meeting, but other than the comments from Watts, they did not discuss it or take any sort of action.
The delay is another setback for the Tomblin administration's mine safety initiatives, which have met with a variety of problems since the Legislature passed and the governor signed into law new legislation in early 2012.
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. Under federal rules, methane monitors are designed to automatically shut down underground mining equipment if the explosive gas is detected at concentrations of 2 percent or greater. The idea is that shutting down mining equipment removes a potential source of a spark that could ignite methane and cause a catastrophic explosion.