HARRISBURG – Gov. Edward G. Rendell recognized the contributions and sacrifices the state’s coal miners have made to Pennsylvania during a ceremony officially marking Dec. 19, 2007, as Coal Miner’s Day.
The governor used the opportunity to announce an agreement between the administration, the legislature, labor unions and mining companies on key issues that will be incorporated into legislation intended to strengthen Pennsylvania’s 130-year-old deep mine safety law.
“It’s important that we keep in context just what our coal miners do,” said Rendell, noting the more than 51,000 mining fatalities that have occurred in Pennsylvania since 1870. “The number of mining deaths emphasizes the importance of coal mining safety.
“When the legislature gets back in January, new legislation strengthening Pennsylvania’s mine safety law, which has not been updated since 1961, will be introduced. It is my hope that this legislation will be enacted swiftly. It is good and groundbreaking legislation because it establishes so many important things and puts the responsibility for mine safety where it belongs.”
Among other things, the governor said, the bill would make the mine owner or operator primarily responsible for safety at the mine, and would create a seven-member Mine Safety Board with the authority to write regulations, making it easier to implement 21st century safety technologies rather than be hampered by 19th century legislation.
The proposed bill would also enact more stringent requirements for verifying underground mine maps and for establishing barriers between new mines and abandoned mines. This provision would put into law a rule Rendell instituted in the wake of the 2002 Quecreek accident.
“It’s important for our miners and their families to know that even while this legislation has been debated, the administration has taken some important steps to ensure the safety of our miners,” said Rendell.
The governor highlighted the following improvements made to Pennsylvania’s mining operations since 2003:
• Requiring safety officials to review every mine permit application and say “No” if they think unsafe conditions may exist. • Implementing stringent new requirements to validate and verify underground mine maps before new mining can take place.
• Increasing the distance between planned mining and abandoned mines from 200 to 500 feet to provide an extra measure of security so miners don’t accidentally breech an abandoned mine pool, as happened at Quecreek.
• Replacing outdated equipment that was more than 30 years old with 48 new, self-contained breathing units at a cost of $415,000 for use by underground mine rescue teams. The units are housed at three mine rescue stations Cambria, Fayette and Schuylkill counties.
• Developing and implementing training for managing mine inundation, as well as continuing education programs for mining professionals, mine managers and mine inspectors.
Wednesday’s commemoration marked the 100th anniversary of Pennsylvania’s deadliest mine accident. A dust and gas explosion in the Darr Mine in Westmoreland County on Dec. 19, 1907, killed 239 miners.
December 1907 is the deadliest month in United States mining history; 3,242 miners were killed in accidents that month, including 1,514 in Pennsylvania. Since 1870, the number of coal miners who have died in Pennsylvania mines totals 51,509.