Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet
Bill to improve mine safety, bolster enforcement wins Senate committee approval
FRANKFORT, Ky. (March 9, 2006) - A bill central to Governor Ernie Fletcher’s push for greater safety in Kentucky coal mines won approval today from the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources. The vote was 10-0.
Senate Bill 200 proposes more safety equipment for miners and greater enforcement authority for the Department for Natural Resources (DNR) and Mine Safety Review Commission. The bill, sponsored by Sens. Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) and Ray Jones (D-Pikeville), can now advance to the full Senate.
Governor Fletcher complimented the committee for its unanimous action. "I urge the full Senate to move quickly on this bill," the Governor said.
SB 200 is a next step for the Fletcher administration, which has significantly increased numbers of mine safety inspectors and mine inspections, as well as mine closure orders and noncompliance orders for safety violations. Five Kentucky miners were killed in active mining in 2004 and again in 2005. Two have died in underground accidents in 2006.
"Governor Fletcher placed mine safety as a top priority from the day he took office," LaJuana S. Wilcher, secretary of the Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, said today in testimony to the Senate committee. "We have been hopeful that some day we would see no more mine deaths," she said.
Required safety provisions under SB 200 include:
· Two-way communications between miners underground and personnel on the surface.
· Extra caches of "self-rescuer" devices containing breathable air.
· Emergency action, evacuation and firefighting plans.
· Escape maps accessible to all miners.
· Escape drills every 90 days for all miners.
· Lifeline cords with directional indicators in all escapeways. Return air courses could not be designated as primary escapeways.
As for enforcement, the commissioner of DNR would for the first time be given authority to assess civil penalties - up to $5,000 - for violations of roof-control and ventilation plans. In addition, when prosecuting safety-violation cases before the Mine Safety Review Commission, DNR would no longer have to prove a violation was intentional.
In turn, the commission, in addition to suspending or revoking licenses and certifications, could impose a penalty on a mine owner equal to as much as 10 days’ gross value of production for violations that place miners in imminent danger of serious injury or death.
A potentially life-threatening accident would have to be reported to DNR by the mine superintendent or mine manager within 15 minutes of actual knowledge of the accident and access to communication. Failure to do so could result in a penalty of $10,000 to $100,000.
Senator Stivers said the bill was "a bipartisan effort involving representatives from both chambers, the industry, labor and the state."
"This bill provides good policy that will be practical to implement and will actually create a safer mining environment," he said.
Senator Jones said the bill "improves overall safety in Kentucky coal mines."
"However, more work is needed on the bill," Jones said. "As the session continues, I plan to continue to work on improving the bill so we can make progress in improving mine safety."
Representative Robin Webb, who sponsored a companion bill in the House, testified in support of SB 200. "There’s nothing that concerns me more than mine safety," said Webb (D-Grayson), a former underground miner. "This bill provides us with a regulatory framework to address the seriousness and the gravity of the issue."