Pennsylvania to update mining laws

PENNSYLVANIA Governor Edward Rendell has announced plans to beef up the state's mine safety regulations in 2008, as well as marking Wednesday, December 19 as Coal Miner's Day.
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Pennsylvania’s Governor, Edward Rendell

Donna Schmidt

The state's laws are 130 years old, and the number of deaths in the coal mining sector emphasise the need for those outlined to be brought up to date, Rendell said.

For that reason, he said the state's administration and legislation will join forces with labour unions and mining companies to identify the most important issues that can be updated.

"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," he said.

"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 the outlined plans, a seven-member Mine Safety Board will be given regulation-authoring authority. Armed with that, Rendell said the group will find it "easier to implement 21st century safety technologies rather than be hampered by 19th century legislation".

Additionally, the Bill will transfer responsibility for mine safety to the mine owner or operator, and will include stronger regulations for underground mine map verification and the barriers that need to exist between abandoned workings and active operations.

"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," Rendell added.

He highlighted a series of changes Pennsylvania has made to its mining operations since 2003. While making map laws more stringent so that validation and verification must be completed before mining can begin, it also allows safety officials to deny permits if unsafe conditions are believed to exist.

The state also increased the distance between abandoned operations and new planning from 200ft to 500ft to prevent incidents like the Quecreek flood of 2002 from reoccurring.

Its 30-year-old self-contained breathing units used by state rescue teams were replaced with 48 new ones this year, at a cost of $US415,000.

The marking of December 19 as Coal Miner's Day in the state was important in two ways, Rendell said.

"Today'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 December 19, 1907 killed 239 miners," he said.

December 1907 was historically the deadliest month in United States mining history, with 3242 miner deaths and 1514 in Pennsylvania alone. Since 1870, 51,509 workers have lost their lives in the state's mines.

"Today we remember these hard working, brave souls who lost their lives, but whose death was the impetus to sweeping changes in mine safety, both in the application of technology and in federal and state regulations," Rendell said.