30 December 2008

The Elusive Goal of Mine Safety in W.Va.

The Associated Press reports that "faced with a turnover rate topping 20 percent, the state is scrambling — for the second consecutive year — to perform five mandatory annual inspections at each of the state's 230 coal mines."

Director Ron Wooten tells AP that his Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training is pursuing inspections through overtime and other means: "inspectors no longer help with mine rescue team contests nor, as of December, are they presenting fatal accident reports to the Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety. The latter change allows inspectors to visit more mines."

The article notes the disparity in pay between state and federal inspectors. It observes further that "fatal accidents also have decreased to eight this year, down from 10 in 2007, according to the agency's Web site. Injuries increased slightly from 936 in 2007 to 970 as of last week."

"The situation raises questions about Gov. Joe Manchin's pledge to make the state's coal operations the safest in the nation after 14 miners died in two high-profile January 2006 accidents," the article said, adding that the coal industry "argues it's time to change the state's role."

The AP report comes on the heels of a record $4.2 million in penalties leveled at a subsidiary of Massey Energy Co. over the January 2006 fire that killed two miners in Logan County.

Aracoma Coal Co. also agreed to plead guilty to 10 criminal charges, including one felony, under an agreement reached with federal prosecutors.

AP, The Charleston Gazette, the Charleston Daily Mail and Public Broadcasting (with audio) are among those with coverage of the federal case.

Workman Ready to Rejoin Supreme Court

Once and future Justice Margaret Workman was sworn in at a Monday robing ceremony in advance of her latest term on West Virginia's Supreme Court, which begins with the New Year.

Workman became the first woman elected to statewide office in the Mountain State, with her election to the court in 1988. After a nearly 10-year absence, Workman is poised to alter the complexion of the five-member bench along with fellow incoming Justice Menis Ketchum. Her fellow Democrat and winner on Nov. 4 was sworn in earlier this month.

The Associated Press covered Monday's ceremony, as did MetroNews.