CHARLESTON — A 60-page bill dubbed the Coal Jobs and Safety Act passed the state Senate on Tuesday, but not without some objections by Democrats who said the bill is a misnomer that does the opposite of what it says.
The bill does develop some water quality standards, establishes enforcement for coal mine-related permits and allows the suspension of a miner who tests positive for drugs. Democrats’ objections, however, centered on requirements for the movement of off-track mining equipment where energized trolley wires or a trolley feeder are present. Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said as many as six mines in the state still use trolleys to move equipment.
“If we pass this bill we take away what protects men in those six mines,” Kessler said.
But Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said the current standards go beyond federal safety requirements and the bill merely brings the state in line with federal law.
“Should not the State of West Virginia have the most stringent safety standards in the nation?” Kessler asked. “(This) causes me trouble; this causes me great concern. I think it sends a horrible message.
“We are willing to compromise or sacrifice one iota of safety in the hopes that maybe we’ll create one more job.”
Kessler said coal is important, but the state should have safe mines.
“Let’s put our miners back to work and do it safely,” said Sen. Daniel Hall, R-Wyoming. Hall said his father was the first mine inspector to arrive at the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in 2010.
“I lost a neighbor; I lost family and friends that day,” Hall said. “For weeks we went to funerals.”
He said if he “thought for one second” the bill would make mines less safe he’d stand against it and use every parliamentary action to kill it.
Sen. Art Kirkendoll, D-Logan, also spoke in favor of the bill. Kirkendoll said the coal industry has absorbed every blow it’s been dealt.
“We mined 120 million tons 10 years ago and now (it’s) barely 100 million,” he said. “Give the people an opportunity to go back to work.”
Trump said the bill would make state coal mines “competitive with surrounding states.” He said the bill also enhances the safety of coal miners.
“There will come a day when America will turn to West Virginia and say, ‘We need the Btus from your hills,” Trump said. “West Virginia is getting ready. That’s our message.”
Seven Democrats voted against the measure, among them Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, who said his uncle died in a mine fire in 1972.
“Stay with me,” Beach said. “Allow safety regulations to stay in place; let’s protect our miners.”
The Senate bill that will repeal the state’s prevailing wage law was slated to be on second reading Tuesday, but will lie over until today and retain its place on the Senate calendar.
Senate leaders have been in negotiations with labor unions and proponents of the prevailing wage for more than a week.
This article was written by Pamela Pritt from The Register-Herald, Beckley, W.Va. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.