One worker died and two were injured when a coal mine roof collapsed late Sunday night outside of Cameron, West Virginia. The mine is operated by the Marshall County Coal Co., which is owned by Murray Energy, the nation's largest underground coal mining company.
Few details have been made public, but state and federal authorities have launched investigations.
The accident comes as Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin considers signing a controversial bill that would roll back some of the state’s coal mining safety regulations. Backed by Republicans, who control the West Virginia Legislature for the first time in more than 80 years, the “Coal Jobs and Safety Act” expands the maximum distance between rail tracks and work areas; it abolishes a joint labor-industry panel that reviews underground diesel equipment to safeguard air quality; it also rescinds a 40-year-old prohibition on transporting equipment when workers are located farther inside the mine than where the equipment is being moved.
The United Mine Workers of America union is calling on Tomblin to veto the bill. In the state capital of Charleston on Saturday, thousands rallied against the measure as well as other GOP-backed laws that would expand charter schools and change the state’s prevailing wage system.
“The UMWA’s hearts and prayers are with the family of the foreman killed in this incident, and we are also praying for a full recovery of the two others injured,” spokesman Phil Smith said. “Our safety experts have been on site since last night and are participating in the investigation of what happened.”
“The Marshall County Coal Co.’s employees and management send their sincere condolences and prayers to the Garloch family,” said the company in a statement, referring to the deceased worker.
Fatal coal mining accidents are increasingly rare in the U.S. Sixteen workers were killed in coal mining accidents last year. Five of them died in West Virginia.
In 2007, the collapse of a Murray Energy-owned mine in Utah killed nine people.