Mine safety: Are lawmakers doing all they could?

February 6, 2012 by Ken Ward Jr.

Today and tomorrow, the House and Senate Judiciary committees at the West Virginia Legislature are holding informational sessions to discuss the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster and to hear about at least two pending pieces of mine safety legislation.

We’ve talked before about Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s bill (see here and here), and you can read that legislation for yourself here (It’s SB 448, the same as HB 4351)  The House leadership’s bill was discussed here and the full text is available here.
Probably the most fascinating thing about all of this is how Gov. Tomblin — perhaps with the help of some coal industry lobbyists — managed to turn legislation that was prompted as a response to the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in 40 years into a drug-testing bill for the mining industry.

As best I’ve been able to tell from reading the reports out so far, there’s absolutely no evidence — none at all — that drug use had anything at all to do with the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster. Yet a drug-testing mandate is the cornerstone of the governor’s bill. And somehow the legislation doesn’t include a requirement that mine operators provide drug treatment for miners with problems, even if those problems developed while a miner was taking prescription medication as part of recovering from a workplace injury.


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