CHARLESTON— As a miner, labor representative and legislator, Delegate Mike Caputo (D-Marion) said he is shocked by coal-industry supported legislation to loosen mine health and safety laws. ”This is an example of a radical agenda being pursued in order to benefit big business without any regard for worker safety,” said Caputo, who is a WV AFL-CIO Vice President and United Mine Workers of America District 31 international vice president. “I am truly astounded that just five years after the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster that took 29 coal miners’ lives, that anyone would be considering removing safety provisions intended to protect West Virginia miners in the event of a fire.
“I find it unconscionable.”
House Bill 2566, endorsed by the West Virginia Coal Association and the West Virginia Business & Industry Council (BIC), would make several changes to coal mining safety regulations:
It abolishes the West Virginia Diesel Commission, which protects the health and safety of miners in underground mines that use diesel powered equipment to ensure that all such equipment meets safety requirements. The duties were transferred to one person: the director of the Office of Miners’, Health Safety and Training.
It increases the distance a rail track can be from the working face area from 500 feet to 1,500 feet. “That is a distance of five football fields an injured miner would have be transported to reach rail transportation to the outside,” Caputo said.
The bill as introduced also stripped language from the state code which was put into law in response to the Blacksville No. 1 Mine Fire in 1972 that killed 9 West Virginia coal miners.
During a House Energy Committee meeting Thursday, Delegate Caputo convinced fellow committee members to reinstate that requirement, which protects miners from the ventilation dangers related to smoke and fire, reading out the names and ages of the nine Blacksville victims. “Thankfully, the majority of my colleagues on the committee agreed that this is the wrong thing to do,” Caputo said. “However, I am concerned that when this legislation goes before the House Judiciary Committee and the full House, the bill could be amended to further weaken safety regulations.”
House Minority Leader Tim Miley (D-Harrison) applauded Delegate Caputo for his continued efforts to stand up for our state’s working men and women, especially West Virginia’s hard-working coal miners. “Mike Caputo is a true champion for coal miners,” Miley stated. “His passion and advocacy at the Legislature on behalf of miners and mine safety is unparalleled.”
Caputo pointed out that West Virginia is always at or near the top in the number of miners killed on the job each year, and is home to more miners who work in the dangerous underground environment than any other state.
“For the past several years, the Legislature has been working to strengthen our coal mine safety standards, so that we never have another Sago, Aracoma or Upper Big Branch tragedy. In fact, this is the first time in my 19 years of service that I have seen legislation being considered that rolls back coal mine health and safety.” Caputo said. “At the very least, we owe it to our miners and their families to prevent the state from taking a step backwards.”