CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - There's growing evidence the underground coal mining industry is close to solving problems such as poor communications and the inability to track missing miners.
Federal law doesn't require a solution until 2009. But West Virginia, the nation's top underground coal producer, is requiring mines to submit detailed plans for wireless two-way communications and reliable tracking systems by July 31st.
As recently as December, the prospect of meeting that deadline looked dim.
But last Friday, a pair of small mine equipment suppliers surprised the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training by submitting a jointly designed plan for approval months ahead of schedule.
Ona based Marco North America and Beckley-based Hughes Supply say their system meets the state's requirements.
Another manufacturer, Elkins-based Hannah Engineering, is putting the final touches on a plan that features a cellular phone system.
And some of the nation's largest mine operators say they're close to ordering radio-based communications systems.
State mine safety chief Ron Wooten says he's certain the industry will be ready by summer.
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