By GOV. JOE MANCHIN

CHARLESTON -- During last year's legislative session, the members of the Legislature and I came together to pass a mine safety bill that would lead the way for the first national mine safety legislation to come out of Congress in more than 25 years.

The early action by our Legislature and the federal bills that followed were just the beginning of a wide-ranging plan of action to protect our miners. With the end of the first regular session of 2007, we've taken another major step toward making our mines the safest in the world. Again with cooperation from the industry, labor, government and the Legislature, we crafted Senate Bill 68. I plan to sign it in the coming days.

SB 68 gives the director of the Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training the authority to fine and penalize unsafe mines operated by repeat offenders. It makes it easier for our state mine safety office to shut down operations that pose a danger to our miners, giving them the necessary authority when they discover life-threatening problems or a history of violations.

This legislation also prohibits the use of certain types of mine seals, and calls on stronger seals to close off portions of a mine that may contain combustible gas. It requires continuing education for underground mine foremen and fire bosses and sets their training requirements. This legislation also allows the Mine Safety Technology Task Force to continue to improve the working conditions of our miners.

In addition to Senate Bill 68, I've taken these actions to further mine safety this year:

* I have directed an additional $4 million to next year's budget for the Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training, which will be used to hire additional safety inspectors and safety instructors. We will increase mine rescue training time and offer more competitive salaries to mine inspectors and instructors to attract qualified and capable workers. I plan to increase salaries of existing instructors and inspectors so we can retain our best and brightest.

* The money will help purchase additional mine rescue equipment and we will continue the crucial abandoned mine mapping project.

* We are modifying the manner in which we review and approve the use of "belt air" to ventilate our coal mines. As we saw firsthand with the Aracoma tragedy in Logan County last year, "belt air" in some conditions can increase the danger of destructive, deadly fires.

Thank you to everyone who played a part in passing Senate Bill 68, and in pursuing further measures that help us reach our ultimate goal: The safest mines possible.

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