Coal deaths surge in ’17

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Coal mining deaths surged in the U.S. in 2017, one year after they hit a record low.

The nation’s coal mines recorded 15 deaths last year, including eight in West Virginia. Kentucky had two deaths, and there were one each in Alabama, Colorado, Montana, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. In 2016 there were eight U.S. coal mine deaths.

West Virginia has led the nation in coal mining deaths in six of the past eight years. That includes 2010, when 29 miners were killed in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia.

In September, President Donald Trump appointed retired coal company executive David Zatezalo as the new chief of the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Most of the deaths this year occurred before his appointment. The Wheeling resident retired in 2014 as chairman of Rhino Resources.

Zatezalo was narrowly approved by the Senate in November. His appointment was opposed by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who said he was not convinced Zatezalo was suited to oversee the federal agency that implements and enforces mine safety laws and standards.

Trump repeatedly voiced support for the coal industry during his presidential campaign. The increasing reliance on natural gas and other less expensive sources of energy has prompted coal use to diminish.

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