Charleston, W. Va. After 14 coal mining deaths in three weeks, West Virginia lawmakers unanimously passed a bill Monday that would require mines to use electronic devices to track trapped miners and stockpile oxygen to keep them alive until help arrives.
The Senate and House both acted speedily at the urging of Gov. Joe Manchin, who unveiled the legislation about 11 a.m. and pressed lawmakers to pass it by the end of the day.
"We can't afford to wait any longer," Manchin said after two miners were found dead over the weekend in a mine fire in Melville. Three weeks ago, 12 miners died after an explosion at the Sago Mine.
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration enforces federal safety laws, but states can pass more stringent mining regulations if they want to.
Once the governor signs the bill, coal companies in the nation's No. 2 coal mining state - behind Wyoming - will have to comply by the end of February.
Manchin's legislation will require improved communications and the electronic tracking of coal miners underground, as well as faster emergency response and the storage of additional air supplies underground.
If the 14 miners who died in two accidents since Jan. 2 had been wearing tracking devices, rescue efforts could have been concentrated where needed, Manchin said. In both cases, rescuers were uncertain exactly where the miners were situated.
In Washington, meanwhile, the Senate opened a hearing on mine safety.
"These deaths I believe were entirely preventable," said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. "And we owe the families of these deceased and noble and great and brave men a hard look of what happened and why."