W. Va.: Mine Owners Seek Court Review of U.S. Air Requirements

April 13, 2007

The National Mining Association has asked a federal court to throw out a federal requirement that underground coal mines provide enough breathable air to keep trapped miners alive until they’re rescued.

The association contends the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration should have made the rule through a formal process. MSHA issued a bulletin outlining the rule Feb. 8 and gave mine operators 30 days to submit plans for complying.

“More information could have been made available,” said NMA spokesman Luke Popovich.

MSHA has not responded to the association, which filed the request with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on March 20.

The rule is part of the federal Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act, which became law in June after the deaths of 12 miners at the Sago Mine in January 2006 and other accidents.

Mine operators can provide a 96-hour supply of air in a shelter or an area designated for barricading, bore holes to provide a constant flow of fresh air to a designated area, or provide a 48-hour supply of air with a contingency plan to provide additional air.

The rule does not require underground shelters, as West Virginia and Illinois have mandated. West Virginia mines have until mid-April to submit plans for airtight shelters. Illinois mines have until May 1 to submit shelter plans.

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