An emergency rule implemented last year requiring underground mines to do more to control explosive coal dust is now a permanent fixture.
The rule first came about last September, five months after 29 miners died in an explosion at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch Mine. The Mine Safety and Health Administration released the final rule Monday.
The change increased the amount of pulverized stone or other inert material that mines must use to dilute coal dust in tunnels that bring fresh air underground.
“This rule is an important next step in the Labor Department’s efforts to keep our miners safe,” U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis said. “Inadequate rock dusting can increase the potential for explosions that destroy mines, lives, families and communities, and we must minimize that potential.”
An independent report by a former top federal mine regulator released last month blamed Massey Energy Co. for allowing highly explosive coal dust and methane gas to accumulate in the Upper Big Branch mine. MSHA has yet to release its final report but has said hundreds of sample collected inside the Upper Big Branch mine showed coal dust played a role in the blast.
“We are committed to enforcing this important standard that ultimately will save lives, and we expect mine operators to act quickly to reduce the threat to those mining coal underground,” said MSHA director Joe Main.
When the temporary rule first came out, the coal industry expressed immediate support for the change, which is already a state requirement in West Virginia.