A Senate panel Tuesday allowed a $35.6 million mine safety appropriation sought by Sen. Robert C. Byrd to clear the first hurdle in the legislative process.

“We need quick action to improve mine safety, and that requires quick cash,” Byrd, D-W.Va., said.

“This $35 million, designated as emergency funding, would kick start the efforts to help fix the hazards that put miners’ lives at risk. More mine inspectors and better rescue technology won’t happen on their own.”

An accelerated push for enhanced coal mine safety was launched by the West Virginia delegation in January after a series of accidents that left 16 workers dead in a 32-day span.

The worst occurred at the Sago Mine in Upshur County, where a Jan. 2 underground explosion trapped 13 miners, killing all but one.

Byrd attached the $35 million outlay to an emergency supplemental bill dedicating funds for high-priority needs, such as military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and recovery efforts for Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

Under his proposal, the Mine Safety and Health Administration could hire 217 inspectors to replace those lost since 2001.

His amendment also calls for $10 million to be added to the mine safety research and development budget at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Those monies also would support grants to outside institutions that partner with the federal government to develop underground safety equipment, including rescue chambers and emergency breathing, tracking and communications devices.

Byrd emphasized this amendment comes in addition to the broader legislation the delegation offered last winter.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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