Kentucky House Approves Mine Safety Bill

Moving one step close to becoming law, a mine safety bill won unanimous approval of a Kentucky House Committee on March 23 in a 99-0 vote.

The bill, which has been pushed by safety advocates and industry and state officials, now moves to the state Senate, which will decide if changes made by the House, such as increasing the number of inspections of underground coal mines from two to three a year, should be approved.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher praised the Kentucky House for passing the bill.

"I want to congratulate members of the House and Senate who have worked so diligently on mine safety legislation during this session," Fletcher said. "The continued bipartisan support for improving mine safety in Kentucky reflects that this is a critical issue for the commonwealth."

Also endorsing the bill was Steve Earle of the United Mine Workers of America's Kentucky office. "We want to go on the record in support of this bill, and we hope there are no attempts to weaken or modify the bill," he said.

Rep. Robin Webb, a former miner, told her colleagues the bill was the product of "many hours of discussion, deliberation study and review" and provides the greatest protection of miners.

"There has been no compromise on mine safety," Webb said. "It is consensus legislation… practicable and progressive."

LaJuana Wilcher, secretary of the Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, said she was concerned about adding a third regular inspection because finding certified mine foreman who are willing to take a pay cut to work for the state government might be difficult. Still, she said the bill has her full support.

The bill, SB 200, offers whistleblower protection to keep employers from retaliating against miners who report unsafe working conditions or who cooperate with investigating agencies. In addition, the bill would allow the state to more easily fine companies for safety violation and gives the commissioner of natural resources the authority to assess penalties of up to $5,000. Other provisions include:

  • Two-way communication between the working section of the mine and the surface.
  • Escape maps posted or readily accessible to all miners and at the surface.
  • Emergency evacuation, action and firefighting plans at coal mines
  • Escape drills for all miners every 90 days.
  • Caches of self-rescuer devices in escape ways, spaced at intervals consistent with federal requirements.

The bill doesn't include all features state legislators had endorsed, such as a 24-hour state hotline to report violations, subpoena power for the state mine safety office and more underground self-rescuer breathing devices than required by federal standards.

Legislators, though, have called the measure a "great start" toward ensuring the safety of Kentucky coal miners.

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