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Mine safety overhaul bill signed into law

With the sole survivor of the Sago mine disaster looking on, President Bush signed into law the first major overhaul of mine safety laws in three decades.
US President George W. Bush(L) delivers
US President George W. Bush prepares to sign the mine safety overhaul bill, flanked by members of congress, Randla McCloy - the only survivor of West Virginia's Sago Mine accident - and McCloy's wife Anna.Karen Bleier / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

With the sole survivor of the Sago mine disaster looking on, President Bush signed into law the first major overhaul of mine safety laws in three decades.

"Only one man came out, and he's with us today," Bush said Thursday of Randal McCloy Jr., who is still recovering from carbon monoxide poisoning from the January accident that killed a dozen miners in West Virginia. McCloy received a standing ovation from those attending the White House ceremony.

The new law, the first of its kind since 1977, requires miners to have two hours' worth of oxygen on hand while they work, rather than one.

Mine operators also must store additional oxygen supplies underground and must put new communications equipment and devices to track lost miners in mines within three years.

Congress passed the mine safety bill following a string of fatal accidents this year. Thirty-three miners have been killed on the job in the United States since the beginning of January, up from 22 throughout 2005.

"We make this promise to American miners and their families: We'll do everything possible to prevent mine accidents and make sure you're able to return safely to your loved ones," Bush said.

The president exchanged hugs and words with miners' families after he signed the bill.

In an emotional exchange with Pam Campbell, whose brother-in-law Marty Bennett died at Sago, Bush said, "I saw your eyes," referring to the tears Campbell shed when Bush was making his remarks.

"They've been that way a while," Campbell replied.

Deborah Hamner, whose husband, George Hamner, was killed at Sago, told the president that she was honored to attend the ceremony but opposed his choice to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Bush's nominee, Richard Stickler, faces staunch opposition from Senate Democrats and miners' advocates. They say he has spent too many years as a coal industry executive.

Bush defended his pick during the speech before the bill signing. "He was a miner, mine shift foreman, a superintendent, and a manager, and the Senate needs to confirm Richard Stickler to this key position," Bush said.

The new safety law includes a requirement that rescue teams be located within an hour of each mine, rather than two hours away.

The law also calls for the government to study whether mine rescue chambers ought to be built into underground coal mines. Such refuges are credited with saving the lives of 72 potash miners in Canada earlier this year.

Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, who attended the signing, said the bill should have required the rescue chambers to be put in place in coal mines.

West Virginia Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin and Kentucky Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher also turned out for the ceremony, and both praised the new law.

"We've kept the promise to the families that their brave loved ones have not died in vain," Manchin said.

Peggy Cohen, who lost her father, Fred Ware, at Sago, said she hoped lawmakers would continue to strengthen mine safety laws. "It's a start," she said of the new law. "Let's hope it's not the end."