One of my proudest accomplishments as Governor is West Virginia’s new mine safety law. The hard work of coal miners is the work that built our state, and the work that sustains it. More than that, it’s the work that built our country. America, today, is the greatest nation the world has ever known, and that nation runs on coal. Coal is the fuel that lit our path and powered our rise to become the world’s only superpower.
And if America runs on coal, what that really means is this: It runs on the tireless hard work of coal miners. Because coal mining, even with modern machinery, is backbreaking work. And it’s sometimes dangerous work, as the tragedies at Sago and Aracoma and Upper Big Branch have reminded us in recent years. We owe it to our coal miners to do everything in our power to bring them home to their families, safe, every day.
For me, this reality is very personal. I was born in the heart of coal country, and I’ve lived my whole life there. I’ve understood from the time I was a little boy, that our coal miners are the heart and soul of West Virginia. And just as long, I’ve known families heartbroken by the loss of loved ones in mining accidents.
That firsthand experience is why I fought so hard for the new mine law. The lives of our state’s coal miners are well worth fighting for.
The reforms in the new legislation are too numerous to list here, but I want to share some of the most important changes. We will begin requiring pre-employment and random drug testing. We are raising the requirements for rock dusting in West Virginia coal mines. Rock dust stops explosions in their tracks, before they can spread through a mine. We are also changing the way mines deal with methane gas, which can cause explosions. The new law improves the monitoring requirements for methane and requires automatic shutdown of mechanized extraction equipment long before methane become dangerous.
We’re cracking down on early warning of mine inspections. The new legislation makes it a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, to tip off a coal mine that mine inspectors are coming. We’re providing a way for miners and their families to let us know about problems in mines before they turn into accidents: The new law codifies a hotline for anonymous tips on unsafe mines. And we’ve made sure that when a mine accident does happen, victims’ families get to be there when investigators interview witnesses.
These are only some of the reforms in this monumental legislation. I’m proud of our state’s mine industry, I’m proud of our coal miners, and I am proud that we have passed this new law. Coal mining in West Virginia will be safer as a result of this foresight and hard work.