Pennsylvania Governor Urges Support for Mine Safety Bill

Following a series of mine tragedies in neighboring West Virginia, Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell called on state lawmakers to pass legislation updating Pennsylvania's mine safety laws and requiring Pennsylvania's 77 active mines to have safety plans and spare oxygen tanks for trapped miners.

Rendell said that cost is not a legitimate excuse in slowing the process and that there isn't a price too costly compared to a human life

"The miners who do this work do it to support their families and put food on the table," he said. "And it is because of them that all of us can turn on the lights each day and keep our homes warm."

"Given all they do for us, we have a duty to do all we can do for them," Rendell added.

The proposed legislation in Pennsylvania would bring new safety technology into mines, increase state enforcement and improve emergency response time. The package could become law by the end of the month, said state Sen. Richard Kasunic, who introduced the mine safety legislation along with Rep. Bob Bastian last fall.

Rendell first unveiled his legislative package in July 2004, 2 years after nine miners were rescued from the flooded Quecreek Mine. The package proposes some of the most significant changes in decades to the commonwealth's mine safety laws, which were last written in 1889 and last updated in 1961.

The governor's newly proposed provisions, modeled in part after a new law adopted by West Virginia, would require:

  • An approved escape plan that prompts faster emergency response;
  • Stockpiled oxygen at strategic locations throughout the mine;
  • Addressing the need of using the best available communications and tracking devices to help locate and reach miners; and
  • Notifying the Department of Environmental Protection within 15 minutes of an accident through a 24-hour, 1-800 number.

Pennsylvania's mine law changes go further than West Virginia's law by installing "lifelines" miners can grab and use to guide themselves to safety if trapped.

"What happened in West Virginia has affected all of us and it has drawn attention on making sure every effort is taken to send our miners home safe and secure at the end of their shift," Rendell said.

Rendell's actions come just 4 days after he ordered the re-inspection of all of the state's active underground mines in the next 30 days. Although the state routinely inspects mines, machinery, plans and maps, Rendell asked for additional inspections of roof-control plans, ventilation, cleanups, electrical equipment and rock-dusting procedures.

Pennsylvania is the nation's fourth-largest coal producer, with West Virginia being the second-largest. Pennsylvania has 5,100 miners employed at underground mines, according to the Rendell administration.

Ten mine workers in Pennsylvania have died since the beginning of 2001, fifth-most among the states, according to the United Mine Workers of America. Nationally, more than 160 have died during that period, according to UMWA.

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