Initially, under legislation introduced last year by Democratic House of Delegates leaders, coal-cutting devices on mining equipment would be required to automatically shut down when methane concentrations reached 1.25 percent.
During negotiations with coal industry and UMW lobbyists, the language was rewritten so that the automatic shutdown would occur only if methane concentrations reached 1.25 percent for a "sustained period."
Lawmakers required the Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety to write rules to define the phrase "sustained period."
Board members have for months been unable to agree on a definition of "sustained period." UMW officials want to define it to require an immediate shutdown when methane reaches 1.25 percent. Industry officials want to build in some lag time, even if it's only a few seconds.
Since the legislation passed, industry officials also said that they discovered that all machine-mounted methane monitors would have to be redesigned and re-approved by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration before the new law could be implemented. That approval process alone could take more than a year, officials have said, meaning it could be two to three years before the new monitoring requirements are implemented across the industry.
In late March, the board issued a draft rule for public comment, but did not specify a definition of "sustained period," asking instead for ideas from the mining community for how to define the term.
The only comment submitted came from board member Chris Hamilton, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association.
On July 31, the Secretary of State's Office filed a formal notice that the board's proposal had expired, because the board had waited more than 90 days and still not filed a final rule with the Legislative Rulemaking Review Committee.
"If you want to continue the rule making process on this rule, you must resubmit the entire rule and associated forms with the Secretary of State for another hearing/public comment period," the notice said.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.