MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
The governor of West Virginia, Joe Manchin, spent the day crafting legislation that would mandate certain mine safety measures in his state. That bill passed the Senate and the House of Delegates by unanimous votes. I asked Governor Manchin about one of the bill's requirements, that a company report any accident within 15 minutes to an emergency operations center.
JOE MANCHIN: You're supposed to contact immediately if there's an accident or something that happens in a mine. And that has not been done, for whatever reason. They're not doing it 'cause they don't want to. Natural reaction is what they, they immediately try to respond, they try to save their own miners. And for some reason we're not called in a timely fashion. One part of this piece of legislation says you will call immediately, and if it's longer than 15 minutes you will be fined $100,000.
Now, with that being said, someone says, well, wait a minute. So many times we have false alarms. A sensor goes off and this and that. I said no different than the fire department. They get false alarms every day. But the bottom line is, think about the one that's not false, and the life they save.
BLOCK: Let's talk about some of the lifesaving technology that you have made part of this bill, including these personal trackers, personal electronic devices.
MANCHIN: Electronic tracking.
BLOCK: Tell us a bit about that. I know they were proved successful at the explosion out in Utah. 45 miners got out in 45 minutes. How do they work?
MANCHIN: Well, basically, those were something like a Blackberry, where you put messages. They can communicate, giving directions to where safety would be. And what we're saying, there has to be a way that upon some tragedy in a mine, some accident, that we are able to know instantly in real time where our miners are located.
BLOCK: And also tell them how to get out.
MANCHIN: And be able to tell - and communicate and tell them how to get out. But the main thing is is location. The third thing is is emergency oxygen stations, reserve oxygen stations. You know, we're hoping that a person can find air when they can't even see their hand in front of their face. It's just unbelievable, and I said, we're knowing, if your family's in there, if your loved one, if your father, whoever it may be, you're going to know that there's going to be air for them up to 48 hours, two days. We're going to have air supplies that's going to be able to be identified with a light, with a bright, strobing light, in strategic locations in the working mine, that if they had a blindfold on they could find it. Some mines do it. It was never mandatory from a federal or state level. It will be mandatory in West Virginia after tonight.
BLOCK: Do you think that might have saved some lives in Sago?
MANCHIN: I'm saying that I truly believe we'd had a different outcome if we'd have had all this. And I promised all the mining families, I said, your loved ones have not died in vain, I promise you that. I've sat with families. I've seen, I've seen the agony that they go through. I know we can do something. I've got to think that everybody wants to make the corrections and the adjustments. And it's a shame that it does take a tragedy, loss of life, to make changes. Only thing I can do is keep my promise to those families, and I'm doing that.
BLOCK: Governor Manchin, I know you had an uncle who was killed in the Farmington explosion in 1968, and that explosion did lead to federal laws. The Mine Health and Safety Act passed after that. Do you expect that what happened in Sago and then in Alma may have a similar...
MANCHIN: Effect in '68?
BLOCK: Effect, yeah, that the Farmington...
MANCHIN: The Farmington mine explosion that my uncle lost his life in and a lot of my friends perished was the first large explosion of that that really caught the world attention, if you will. And real change did come. And we've had safety records continuing to improve ever since. What's unfortunate, that during the 40 years, almost, that that's happened, technology's changed, the way they mine coal has changed, but very little has changed from that time of the protection of a miner to be kept in the safest of an environment. And I can't explain it. I really can't. Only thing I can do is change it.
BLOCK: Governor Manchin, thanks very much.
MANCHIN: Thank you.
BLOCK: Governor Joe Manchin of West Virginia, speaking with us from the State House in Charleston.