Pennsylvania mines safer still

WHILE US mines are among the safest in the world, Pennsylvania governor Edward Rendell wants to make sure the state’s mines and miners alike remain safe by updating existing regulations and introducing a new legislative package to strengthen safety standards.
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Pennsylvania’s Governor, Edward Rendell

Donna Schmidt

“Pennsylvania’s mine safety program is a national model, but we want to make sure we have in place the highest standards to protect our miners and maintain our leadership in mining operations,” said Rendell.

He added that the drive to update antiquated laws and introduce new ones had much to do with the Quecreek mine disaster in 2002 and said “the end result, this legislative package, will make miners safer and enhance the reputation of our already renowned mining industry”

With more than 4600 miners currently employed in underground mines, and four of the highest producing operations in the US within its borders, Rendell said the updates were vital to the state’s future as a leader in coal production. “All of us want Pennsylvania’s mining industry to be successful ... but there is no compromise when it comes to the safety of our miners,” he said in a statement. “We need laws that give us more flexibility in responding to a crisis and increase our ability to prevent accidents to begin with.”

The regulations to be added to the state’s books as part of the initiative include:

Increasing the distance for advanced drilling to test for water or gas when approaching an adjacent mine from 200ft to 500ft.

More involvement on the part of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Deep Mine Safety department to review permit applications for safety and health risks, as well as give the DEP more of an active role in promulgating regulations for the future.

Permitting the DEP to impose charges against mine owners in violation of safety regulation as well as issue non-compliance penalties.

Additionally, the mine owner will now become primarily responsible for mine safety, the opposite of the regulation on the books previously that generally excluded owners from such situations.

Also of vital importance after the Quecreek incident is mapping, which was addressed in the legislation package as well. A review process will be updated to require operators to prove the maps they submit are reliable and that the DEP now be permitted to copy all mine maps as well as enforce rules for operations, requiring them to update their maps with the department on a regular basis. If a mine does not comply and the DEP responds to a mine emergency at its facility, the DEP may now seek reimbursement for expenses incurred.

Rendell’s legislation will also update antiquated laws and language that were written during the latter part of the 19th century and were only given a minor update in 1961. References to animals and stables in mines will be omitted, as will signals to “turn steam to the pumps” and “substitute approved gas detection devices in lieu of ‘flame safety lamps’”

The governor asked senator Richard Kasunic and representative Bob Bastian to introduce the package, which he said would go a long way in “ensuring the state’s world-class mining operations continue to excel in a changing industry”

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