A state bill that would have gutted West Virginia mine inspectors of their ability to enforce laws and regulations was pulled from consideration by the author of the bill who says he will reintroduced the legislation with some of the more controversial elements removed.
The Charleston-Gazette reported that West Virginia Senator Randy Smith said language of the new bill would not contain language like the provisions of his Senate Bill 582, which would have prevented state inspectors from issuing citations or levying fines unless they could prove a hazard posed “imminent danger” of death or serious injury.
“582 was never going to come out, in its present form,” Smith said.
The bill drew strong criticism when it was reported that the state would no longer conduct inspections, instead inspectors would conduct “compliance visits and education.” Those inspectors would also no longer issue citations or fines but operators would receive “compliance assistance visit notices” for violations that did not pose an imminent danger to miners.
Smith his intention was to draw attention to the bill as a way to start the conversation about a mine safety bill.
Smith said his new bill will include some rules to “stiffen” areas of state safety regulations, specifically related to first aid requirements at mine sites. There will be no language to reduce the authority of the state mine safety office, he said.
“It’s not going to take any power away from the agency,” Smith said. “We’re not trying to deregulate. We’re just trying to get everybody on the same page.”
Smith said the only safety standards that might be removed through the bill are outdated ones that refer to practices or equipment no longer used in modern mining activities.
“It’s a cleanup bill on some issues,” Smith said.
Smith said negotiations are still ongoing about whether the new bill will combine any of the state’s various mine safety boards. He also said that, separate from the legislative effort, state mine safety officials will examine West Virginia rules, to determine areas where they are duplicative of federal Mine Safety and Health Administration standards.
Smith said there also will be some changes to the environmental provisions in the bill. The original SB 582 would have rewritten the state’s program for holding mine operators responsible for cleaning up abandoned strip mines and the rules for properly classifying streams that are trout waters.