Owners Agree To Shut W.Va. Mines

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, center, holds a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2006, at the West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston, where he called for all coal companies in West Virginia to halt production and perform safety checks after two more mine workers were killed Wednesday in separate accidents.
At coal mines across West Virginia, miners started their shifts Thursday with lectures on safety, following a request from Gov. Joe Manchin for all 544 mines to conduct safety checks before continuing operations.

Sixteen miners have died in four separate accidents in West Virginia mines already this year, the latest of them in two mines on Wednesday.

Manchin called for immediate safety checks that afternoon, and an industry group that represents 80 percent of the state's coal producers said Thursday its members were complying.

"Everybody is going to tailor this to their individual needs and what works best for them," said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association. "What this does is it brings attention to what is done every day."

Mining companies started safety talks within hours of Manchin's request Wednesday, and others planned to have discussions during pre-shift meetings, Raney said. He said the safety checks were not expected to affect coal production in the nation's second largest coal producing state.

Governor's spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg said Manchin does not have the authority to shut down mines that do not heed the safety check request, but she was unaware of any companies refusing to do so.

Beyond the safety checks, Manchin told state mine regulators to speed up their mine inspection schedule and review all 229 surface and 315 underground mines immediately. Each mine is scheduled to be inspected every three months, Manchin said in a statement, and the state will immediately begin "inspecting each mine in the state and their equipment, conditions, engineering plans, safety procedures and safe work practices."

"We're going to check for unsafe conditions, and we're going to correct any unsafe conditions before we mine another lump of coal," Manchin said.

"West Virginia remains committed to putting the safety of every one of our miners first and foremost, far above any production that might come from that mining operation," Manchin said at a news conference.

Ramsburg said the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has agreed to send additional inspectors to assist, though it wasn't immediately clear how many.

In Washington, David Dye, acting U.S. assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, requested that coal mines nationwide conduct a time-out, or "Stand Down for Safety," on Monday to remind their employees about safety precautions.