Sen. Richard Kasunic, a Fayette/Somerset County Democrat, and Rep. Bob Bastian, a Somerset County Republican, say the legislation would tighten mine safety regulations and toughen penalties against violators.
The measures would require greater safety precautions in advance of drilling, a more reliable mapping system and tougher penalties for mining companies that fail to comply with state mine safety regulations, according to the lawmakers.
Some of the key components of the bill would:
- Increase from 200 feet to 500 feet the distance for advanced drilling near adjacent mines or areas where water or gas are present;
- Set minimum mapping and surveying standards, establish a central map repository database and require mining applicants to demonstrate that their maps are reliable;
- Strengthen the role of the state Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) Deep Mine Safety Bureau and provide for denial or revocation of an application if the mining company does not eliminate a health or safety threat;
- Penalize violators with criminal and civil penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment;
- Require a company to pay restitution to cover the costs of responding to mine emergencies; and
- Provide funding for mine safety and mine rescue activities.
"This comprehensive legislation would help prevent mining disasters and death," Kasunic said. "By requiring reasonable precautions, removing guesswork and giving state regulators more oversight, I am confident this legislation would prevent future Quecreeks from happening."
The Quecreek accident occurred on July 24, 2002, when miners, believing they were 300 feet away from an adjacent Saxman Mine, tapped into it, unleashing a flood of water into the Quecreek tunnels. Nine miners were trapped for 78 hours. Investigators later blamed unreliable maps and arcane safety standards.
Bastian said the proposed legislation "offers a badly-needed update to the state's Bituminous Coal Mine Act," which, according to the two state lawmakers, hasn't had a major revision since 1961.
"For far too long, we have been compromising safety with antiquated and inadequate maps and surveying standards," Bastian said.
Kasunic and Bastian said their legislation uses key recommendations from the Governor's Commission on Abandoned Mine Voids and Mine Safety, the DEP/MSHA Quecreek investigation team and the Quecreek Grand Jury.