The Natural Resources and Environment Committee voted unanimously to send the revised Senate Bill 200 to a full House panel after an earlier rival House Bill 503, which called for four annual inspections, stalled in the Senate.
The new measure has the backing of both coal operators and unions Associated Press reported.
In a letter to The Lexington Herald Leader, LaJuana Wilcher, secretary of the Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, said she supported SB 200 but her office would need extra inspectors to service the additional inspections.
“Legislation that requires more state inspections but does not include any funding or create any new inspector positions creates an illusion of safety. More important, however, recruiting, hiring and training competent state mine safety inspectors takes months,” she wrote, adding the state was already competing with companies to keep positions filled.
She said simply requiring more regular inspections would guarantee that the state would be unable to conduct more frequent, targeted inspections of problem areas such as electrical, roof control or ventilation plan requirements.
SB 200, which is now being considered in the House, would provide improved technology requirements, emergency action plans, training and drills, additional rescue equipment and communication systems and new enforcement authority and penalties.
The Bill would also allow the Department for Natural Resources to continue to deploy its inspection resources in a focused and targeted approach, which to date has helped reduce Kentucky's active coal mining fatality rate to the lowest levels in history.
Key features of SB 200 include the following:
Underground mines would get three inspections a year, instead of two;
Miners would be linked to the surface with "telephones or equivalent two-way communications";
Mines would have to conduct escape drills;
Extra oxygen supplies would be placed in mines;
Accidents would have to be reported within 15 minutes;
Miners who reported problems would get protection; and
The state natural resources commissioner could assess penalties of up to $5000 for violations of mine ventilation or roof control plans.
The measure has at least a couple of hurdles to clear – a vote in the House and then a return to the Senate to consider House changes.