After a string of fatal accidents in West Virginia and Kentucky, Congress yesterday passed a bill to make coal mining less risky.
In a 381-37 vote, the House endorsed a bill that would require mine operators to put more oxygen supplies underground and move rescue teams closer to mines.
The bill previously won Senate backing and now goes to President Bush for his signature.
In all, 33 coal miners have been killed in the United States so far this year — up from 22 deaths throughout 2005, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
“This has been a dark, mournful year for our nation’s coal miners,” said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.
The last time Congress passed significant mine safety legislation was in 1977.
“Technology has changed, communications equipment has changed, but our laws have not kept up,” said Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky.
The measure would require miners to have at least a two-hour supply of oxygen with them while they work — an increase from a one-hour standard.
It also would require mine operators to leave additional air packs at various points in mines and to perform routine checks on the devices to ensure they work.
Oxygen supplies have been central to the debate over mine safety.
Three miners killed in an accident at an Eastern Kentucky mine last month survived the initial explosion but died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Eleven miners died of carbon monoxide poisoning at West Virginia’s Sago mine in January.
In both of those mines, non-traditional seals made of lightweight fiberglass blocks had been used to close off abandoned sections of the mines. The new legislation will require those seals to be strengthened.
Rescuers at the Kentucky accident reported that the seals did not withstand the blast. The accident at the Sago mine is thought to have occurred in an abandoned section of the mine that was sealed.
Under the new legislation, rescue teams must be within an hour’s distance of mines, rather than a two-hour standard. And the bill states that new devices to track and communicate with trapped miners must be in place within three years.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the only vocal opponent of the bill, said new technology should be mandated more quickly.
The bill had the support of both the United Mine Workers of America and the industry-backed National Mining Association.