Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet
Senate passes bill for greater enforcement of mine safety laws
FRANKFORT, Ky. (March 10, 2006) - The Senate today unanimously passed a bipartisan bill sought by Governor Ernie Fletcher for greater and more aggressive enforcement of mine safety laws and additional safety equipment and practices for coal miners.
Governor Fletcher, hospitalized in Lexington for treatment of a blood clot, was notified of the 37-0 vote on Senate Bill 200, which now goes to the House.
"I want to thank the Senate for taking prompt action on one of the most important legislative issues this session," Governor Fletcher said. "The bipartisan support for this bill sends a strong message to Kentucky’s hard-working coal miners that we value them and their safety is a priority for all of us."
The lead sponsor, Senator Robert Stivers (R-Manchester), agreed that mine safety "is not a political issue."
"We have set aside politics, and we have set a good policy," Stivers told the Senate in presenting SB 200 for a vote today.
SB 200 proposes numerous innovations in mine safety enforcement and emergency evacuation, communications and rescue procedures. Under the bill, the commissioner of the Department for Natural Resources would, for the first time in Kentucky’s history, have authority to assess penalties - up to $5,000 - for a violation of a mine ventilation plan or roof control plan. Under current law, the department can only issue a closure order or noncompliance order for safety violations.
Also for the first time, the state Mine Safety Review Commission could assess penalties against a mine owner without having to prove that a mine safety violation was committed or ordered intentionally. Penalties for violations under the new standard would potentially amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The current standard - evidence of intent to place a miner in imminent danger of death or serious injury - has been "an extremely difficult obstacle to overcome" in prosecution of cases before the commission, said Senator Ray Jones (D-Pikeville), a co-sponsor of SB 200.
"Simply doing more inspections without serious sanctions for mine safety violations is an exercise in futility," said LaJuana S. Wilcher, secretary of the Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet. "Unlike other legislative proposals, this legislation finally would give the cabinet meaningful enforcement authority."
"This is a strengthening bill. This is far stronger than it’s ever been," said Senator Tom Jensen (R-London), chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, which approved SB 200 on Thursday. "As of today, this is the best piece of legislation we could possibly come up with."
But Jensen and others emphasized the importance of mine safety keeping pace with advances in technology. Jensen said the interim joint Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, of which he is co-chairman, would hold hearings on mine safety in the interim prior to the next General Assembly.
SB 200 also would require, for the first time:
· Two-way communication between the working section of a mine and the surface.
· Emergency action plans, emergency evacuation and firefighting plans for all licensed coal facilities.
· Escape maps posted or readily accessible to all miners and at the surface.
· Escape drills for all miners every 90 days.
· Caches of self-rescuer devices in escape ways, spaced at intervals consistent with federal requirements.
· Job protection for miners reporting or documenting unsafe mining practices or conditions or cooperating with regulatory agencies in investigations of unsafe mining practices.