House Judiciary took up a bill Tuesday that addresses mine safety. Senate Bill 357, also known as House Bill 2566, is the Coal Jobs and Safety Act of 2015. This is a big bill with many provisions, and House Judiciary considered a handful of amendments to it.
There were two amendments to the bill that stirred up some debate within the House Judiciary Committee. Amendment number 2, as the delegates called it, was an amendment proposed by Delegate Woody Ireland of Ritchie County.
Ireland’s amendment addresses when and how and who moves equipment within a coal mine. This amendment adjusts some language related to energized trolley wire, which is a way for miners to move large loads of equipment in shuttle cars.
Delegate Tim Manchin of Marion County proposed a rival amendment to Ireland’s. In Manchin’s amendment, which was referred to as amendment number 4, it suggests putting the language back in the bill that is currently law saying there would be restrictions on how the equipment would be moved.
Manchin called Ireland’s amendment a roll back in mine safety.
“This is a huge roll back in miner safety to take seventy some mines out of the control of this statute to say that seventy some mines will now be allowed to move oversized equipment with motors and other apparatuses that are being strained to their limits in carrying that equipment, to remove those from the provisions and to subject coal miners to being in by of those where they’re going to be exposed to those fumes and fire and all the noxious smoke that comes off of that is an outrage,” Manchin said, “It is a roll back in coal miner safety, it should not be permitted, that we have not been given any adequate excuse to do that, and therefore we should reject this. Men have died, men died to get this statute passed, men died after this statute was passed. Nine men, in Marion and Monongalia County died, I think it was in the 60s or early 70s if I’m not mistaken, because, for this statute, and now we’re going to remove that.”
Delegate Stephen Skinner of Jefferson County, a fellow sponsor of Manchin’s amendment, also spoke against Ireland’s amendment, number 2.
“The amendment offered by the gentleman across applies to a very narrow number of mines,” Skinner said, “The statute as it is right now applies to all mines and is safety focused. We should make the choice for making decisions based on evidence, and we don’t have that evidence here today.”
Delegate Patrick Lane of Kanawha County supported Ireland’s amendment, explaining that amendment number 2 was a good middle-ground and still addressed all the safety concerns.
“The gentleman from Ritchie has offered, what I would consider to be a balanced approach to making sure that miners in most of the mines where there’s a real safety issue with the movement of equipment are protected, but at the same time allowing that equipment to be moved in an efficient manner,” Lane noted, “and I would just remind people to look at the language that it says that a qualified person has to be in charge of transporting it, and specifically, as we heard yesterday, the primary issue is the energized wire that can create the problem, the real safety issue, and I think the gentleman has addressed that specifically, and would ask the committee to adopt amendment number 2 offered by the gentleman from Ritchie and reject amendment number 4.”
After the debate however, Ireland’s amendment passed, and Manchin’s amendment was rejected.
Two more amendments were proposed by Delegates Manchin and Skinner; one having to do with the diesel commission and inspections, while the other had to do with rail track variants from the face of a mine. Both amendments were rejected.
Senate Bill 357 now reports to the floor for its consideration.