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US: Senate Considers Bill on Mine Safety

by John HolushaThe New York Times
May 16th, 2006

Legislation that would increase the supplies of oxygen available to miners trapped by explosions, rock falls or other disasters, among other measures, was introduced in the Senate today by two senators from both parties.

The proposed legislation is a response to the Sago mine accident in West Virginia in January in which 11 miners died for lack of clean air, and to other mine problems. It was introduced by Senator Mike Enzi, Republican of Wyoming, and Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, the chairman and ranking member of the committee of the committee that regulates workplace conditions.

The president of the United Mine Workers Union today urged quick Congressional action to improve mine safety, referring to measures that have been introduced in both houses.

"It's been over five months since the Sago mine blew up and 12 brave men lost their lives," said Cecil E. Roberts. "The time for talking about improving safety in the coal mines is over. Congress must act, and act now."

The proposal would require each miner to have two hours of oxygen, up from the current requirement of one hour. In addition, supplies of oxygen would be required to be stored every 30-minute walk along escape routes.

Mine operators would also be required to monitor the emergency supplies for reliability. The sole survivor of the Sago disaster, Randal McCloy, said that emergency breathing packs of at least four miners did not function, forcing the trapped men to share their oxygen.

Mining companies would also install stronger seals separating closed-off sections of mines from areas still in operation. A blast that started in a gas-filled abandoned section of the mine is believed to have been responsible the Sago accident.

The bill would require that mines be equipped with reliable two-way wireless communication systems and electronic tracking systems so that rescuers can locate miners trapped underground.

Those rescue teams would have to be located closer to the miners they cover, be more familiar with them and have better training.

The legislation would increase fines for violation of safety rules and authorize the closing of mines that do not meet safety standards.

"This bill is the product of months of work across party lines to find practical and innovative solutions to enhance mine safety," Senator Enzi said.

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