Mine Safety Board Meets for First Time

HARRISBURG – A seven-member board established under Pennsylvania’s new bituminous mine safety law met for the first time Wednesday to begin making the state’s deep underground coal mines safer for those who work there.

The new Board of Coal Mine Safety has the authority to put in place regulations that keep pace with changing mine safety technology—something the state was previously unable to do. Board members can act quickly to implement necessary improvements and precautionary measures that will keep miners safe as the industry advances.

“We have regulated underground coal mining in Pennsylvania since 1877, but this is the first time the department has been given the authority to enact new regulations to protect the safety of our underground coal miners,” said Department of Environmental Protection acting Secretary John Hanger. “Following the Quecreek Mine accident in 2002, DEP was unable to correct the deficiencies and shortcomings investigators found in Pennsylvania’s mine safety law, because the department did not have the authority to write new regulations. “Under the new law, we now have that authority. The Board of Coal Mine Safety is one of the most significant improvements to Pennsylvania’s mine safety program, in that it allows us to make improvements as new mining technologies or hazards are identified. Additionally, it provides a framework that gives miners and the mining industry a voice in the process and allows us to address issues in a timely manner so the safety and well-being of miners and their families are not compromised.”

One of the board’s first tasks will be to review recent changes to federal law that phase in new fire-resistant conveyor belts in mines and require mine operators to install in-mine refuge areas to protect miners in the event of roof collapses, fires or explosions. The board will have the option to amend these requirements into state law and institute more stringent requirements, if needed, based on geologic conditions and other issues in Pennsylvania’s underground mines.

The seven-member board, chaired by the secretary of DEP, was appointed by Governor Edward G. Rendell and includes three representatives each of the United Mine Workers of America and coal mining companies operating in Pennsylvania’s bituminous coal fields. Members and their affiliations include:

• Ronald Bowersox, Shelocta, Armstrong County – UMWA

• John Gallick, Waynesburg, Greene County – Foundation Coal Corp.

• Dave Hudson, Claysville, Washington County – Consol Energy Inc.

• Robert Penigar, Ford City, Armstrong County – Rosebud Mining Co.

• Frank Reidelbacch, Ebensburg, Cambria County – UMWA

• James Sabella, Northern Cambria, Cambria County – UMWA

Pennsylvania’s new Bituminous Mine Safety law was passed overwhelmingly by the House and Senate and was signed by Governor Rendell on July 7, 2008. It took effect on Jan. 3. It modernizes Pennsylvania’s outdated mine safety laws, removing antiquated language that has very little to do with modern mining, and reorganizes the inflexible regulatory structure that was criticized repeatedly by the agencies and boards involved in investigating the Quecreek Mine accident.

With passage of this legislation, the Department of Environmental Protection has followed through on every recommendation made by the Governor’s Commission on Mine Safety, DEP’s Bureau of Mine Safety, the state Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration in the wake of the Quecreek accident.

Additionally, in October, Governor Rendell signed the Mine Families First Act into law to ensure that families of miners involved in underground emergencies are treated with dignity and respect while they await information on their loved ones. The act establishes a plan for notifying families about the status of their relatives and the progress of rescue operations; provides for transportation to and from a place for family members to gather; institutes security measures to ensure privacy; and provides counseling through social service organizations.

Pennsylvania is the fourth-largest coal producing state—after Wyoming, West Virginia and Kentucky—with 34 underground bituminous mines, including four of the six highest-producing underground mines in the nation. There were three fatalities in bituminous underground mines in Pennsylvania in 2008, all involving underground mining equipment. More than 20,000 bituminous coal miners have died in accidents since the state began keeping records in 1877.

For more information on underground mine safety, visit online, keyword: Mine Safety.

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