(02/28/2002)
The coal industry compromise on overweight coal trucks was rejected Tuesday in the House Judiciary Committee. Delegates Bill Stemple (D-Calhoun) and Larry Faircloth (R-Berkley) offered the coal interests compromise version, which would have raised the maximum weight limit for hauling from 65,000 pounds to 126,000 pounds, which included a five percent tolerance.

They argued the compromise weight limit is better than the present overloading of trucks, ranging from 155,000 to 170,000 pounds. Delegate Mike Cuputo (D-Marion) called the Stemple-Faircloth amendment "smoke and mirrors." He said "It is bad public policy," with the amendment subsidizing the coal industry at the expense of West Virginia taxpayers. Caputo said "It is time we send a message to the industry."

The committee rejected the Stemple-Faircloth version 16-9.

Caputo's proposed bill was then approved by the committee. It would increase the penalties for overweight trucks by five times, and would keep the current weight limits of 80,000 pounds on interstate highways and 65,000 pounds on state roads. The passage of the bill has a long way to go, and legislative watchers give it a slim chance.

Cuputo has passionately argued for the safety of coalfield residents, eleven who have been killed by coal trucks in the past several months, dozens of others injured, some permanently. The overweight coal trucks, mostly ignored by law enforcement for several years, have been a controversial issue in the legislature.

The issue was being discussed last week in the legislature as a coal truck and van wrecked in Kanawha County, and the occupants had to be cut from the vehicle. Investigators said the coal truck would not pass safety standards and was likely overloaded.

The shadow of the Buffalo Creek flood that killed 125 people 30 years ago loomed over the current discussion. State government failed to hold Pittson Coal accountable for their collapsed sludge dams in 1972, at which time the coal company blamed the incident on God.


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