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W.Va. lawmaker moves to streamline coal permitting by deferring to MSHA plans

A new bill introduced in the West Virginia legislature includes a provision to defer to federal authority instead of drafting individual state-approved mining plans.

Coal miner and state Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, introduced a bill containing provisions that would allow coal companies to submit plans approved by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration to West Virginia regulators instead of creating separate state-approved plans. The law would apply to plans for ventilation, seals, roof control, belt air, self-contained self-rescuer storage, tracking and communication, and emergency shelters.

The Feb. 19 bill would permit the use of diesel-powered generators in underground mines when supervised and vented. It also requires automated external defibrillators to be present at surface coal mines. Senate Bill 626 proposes changing notice requirements for permit applications to allow electronic public notifications in addition to print advertisements and to clarify other parts of state law related to coal mining.

Many elements within the bill were discussed at a recent West Virginia Coal Association gathering where Smith spoke. At the same event, there was a discussion about an effort to shift state enforcement efforts to compliance assistance programs, but that was not included in Smith's bill. West Virginia Del. Rupie Phillips, who also spoke at the event, introduced a bill Jan. 19 to lower the severance tax rate for coal from 5% to 2%, addressing another of the industry's stated legislative priorities for 2018.