The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

October 3, 2013

Shutdown takes half U.S. mine inspectors off the job

CHARLESTON — Fewer than half of the inspectors with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration are working during the continuing federal government shutdown, and they’re focused mainly on mines the agency already knows have a history of hazards.

MSHA’s shutdown plan furloughs nearly 1,400 of its 2,355 employees nationwide. Only 13 people remain on the job at the national office in Arlington, Va.

The United Mine Workers of America is stepping up safety efforts at union mines, but it worries about the effect of the government shutdown on non-union operations.

At union mines, workers can point to safety hazards and demand management fix them. If they go uncorrected, miners can refuse to work.

Union spokesman Phil Smith tells The Charleston Gazette that it’s harder for non-union miners to feel comfortable exercising that right because they often fear retribution.

“It’s never good when the full weight of the government’s watchdog agency can’t be brought to bear to protect miners, union or non-union,” Smith said.

If a hazard is identified at a non-union mine and MSHA is somehow informed, he said, “it is highly unlikely that any corrective action will occur until an inspector actually gets to the site, observes the violation and writes it up.”

MSHA’s contingency plan says inspectors will also do “hazard-specific inspections,” meaning they’ll focus on conditions and practices that have been the most common cause of injuries and deaths.

Federal law requires that MSHA do four full inspections a year at every underground coal mine and two at every surface mine, but the agency has sometimes struggled to comply.

Budget and staffing cuts preceded a series of coal mining disasters that killed 28 people in West Virginia, Kentucky and Utah in 2006 and 2007.

Staffing and budgets have since stabilized, but agency lapses played a role in the conditions that existed at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine before it exploded in 2010, killing 29 men in the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in four decades.

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West Virginia
  • Symptoms match with spilled chemical

    For two weeks following a January chemical spill into the public water supply, hundreds of West Virginians examined in emergency rooms had ailments consistent with exposure to the chemical, health officials said Wednesday.
    Federal toxic substance experts and the state Bureau for Public Health stopped short of saying that their analysis determined without a doubt that patients’ problems stemmed from chemical contact.

    April 24, 2014

  • West Virginia chemical safe level following spill based on two weeks

    When federal officials decided what chemical levels West Virginians could safely consume in water tainted by a January spill, their standard assumed people would be exposed for two weeks, not 100-plus days.

    April 23, 2014

  • Some state Democrats flip to GOP

    As Republicans rally for more control in West Virginia’s long-time Democratic Legislature, a few Democrats have jumped ship to the GOP and are challenging former colleagues in midterm races.
    Republicans face their biggest election opportunity in decades in the House of Delegates, where a four-seat swing would put them in power for the first time in 85 years.

    April 20, 2014

  • Gee’s move could save Ohio State millions

    Ohio State University expects to save millions of dollars because former president Gordon Gee is giving up part of his retirement package as he becomes president of West Virginia University for the second time.

    April 19, 2014

  • W.Va. AG court filings: Dismiss gun law question

    The attorney general says a court challenge should be dismissed over whether West Virginians can bring guns to city recreational facilities that hold school events.
    Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s filings Thursday argue the city of Charleston shouldn’t receive court guidance on how to implement a state gun law.

    April 18, 2014

  • Energy-state Dems split from Obama

    Scrapping to keep a West Virginia Senate seat Democratic in a state that’s sprinted to the right, Natalie Tennant is counting on her allegiance to the coal industry to separate herself from an unpopular President Barack Obama.
    Her approach reflects common Democratic strategy and tactics this midterm election year in energy-producing states that lean Republican: Sen. Mary Landrieu is vying for a fourth term representing Louisiana; Alaska Sen. Mark Begich is running for re-election for the first time; and Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes wants to replace Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    April 17, 2014

  • Official: $2M in chemical spill costs reimbursable

    Public agencies and nonprofits that helped after a Jan. 9 chemical leak into the water supply could receive $2 million in reimbursements for their emergency work, a West Virginia homeland security official said.
    Federal and state emergency officials briefed fire departments, paramedics and other government groups Wednesday on how to recoup costs.

    April 17, 2014

  • Manchin urges mines to speak out for coal

    The Democratic senator leading the battle against the White House’s strategy to fight climate change urged the mining industry on Tuesday to speak out about coal’s role in providing affordable, reliable electricity to the country to help combat strict new emissions rules for coal-fired power plants.

    April 16, 2014

  • Many schools already meet new mandate for breakfast

    Many West Virginia public schools have changed the way they serve breakfast to students ahead of a requirement that goes into effect in September.

    April 14, 2014

  • W.Va. grower promotes unmodified feed corn

    Lyle Tabb is hoping that his non-genetically modified corn will take off with farmers who can charge top dollar for “all natural” eggs.
    Genetically modified or GMO corn has greatly simplified the process of getting rid of weeds, but has also substantially increased the amount of a chemical call glyphosate.

    April 13, 2014

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