Indiana mines unchecked

AN INDIANA state official has said he was responsible for a decision to suspend inspections of the state’s seven underground mines for more than a year, according to media reports.

Donna Schmidt

“I made that call,” state labour commissioner Miguel Rivera told Indianapolis television outlet WTHR regarding his suspension of the required quarterly inspections, citing the need to streamline the work of the staff he felt was being “duplicated”, as federal inspectors already conducted inspections.

Rivera said his intent was to reprioritise the state Bureau of Mine’s efforts elsewhere and said that “our focus is on training miners and mine rescue”, according to the station’s televised interview.

Just two days after the Sago mine incident in Upshur County, he sent a letter to the state’s only mine inspector, John Alaria, instructing him to “commence inspections” on all of the mines, the station said. Alaria had written a letter to the commissioner in January protesting his initial decision to halt them and stated that one person could not complete the work alone.

After completing all of the inspections – seven in seven weeks – Alaria resigned from his post last week, according to the station’s report. Rivera told a WTHR reporter that the timing of his letter to commence inspections was “pure coincidence” and that it was previously planned. Additionally, he said he had already located a replacement to fill the seat of state mine inspector.

The commissioner said in an Associated Press story that the state has had no fatal coal mining accidents since 2004 and that his department has teamed up with local institution Vincennes University to develop an improved mine training program.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration has about 10 full-time inspectors to cover all of Indiana’s underground mining operations, an AP report said. Agency district manager David Whitcomb put the extent of the work into perspective, telling the news service that inspections could take anywhere from three weeks to three months to complete, depending on size and complexity.

Approximately 1500 miners work at Indiana’s underground facilities, with a surge of 3000 more expected in the near future as five new operations commence production, the news service said. Indiana is the eighth largest coal producer in the US.