According to House leader Bill DeWeese, who oversees three of the most coala-rich counties in the southwestern region of the state, said late last week that the legislation is a result of months of discussions that has taken place between legislators, the Pennsylvania Coal Association and the United Mine Workers for month.
“Since the Bituminous Coal Mine Act was last updated in 1961, the mining industry has changed immensely," DeWeese notedsaid.
“These operations employ state-of-the-art equipment and technology that was never conceived as possible by the authors of the 1961 law.
“The legislature’s intent should be to provide the hardworking miners of the Commonwealth with the best mine safety law in the nation."
The legislation he and his colleagues prepared is an amended version of Senate Bill 949, which was passed by the Senate and was also a landmark proposal at the time but
“lacked the language necessary to offer miners the best protections possible,", according to DeWeese.
Making the "improved legislation" proposal the best it can be is vital, as the updates made to the 1961 law had an impact well beyond the state's borders and impacted an industry nationwide.
Among the cChanges made by the House include:
A requirement for trailing cable pre-operational checks;
The existence of walk-around rights for the representative of miners along with a state mine inspector during his or her evaluation;
More stringent qualifications for certification;
A requirement that mine examinations be performed three hours before shift start, which DeWeese defined as "the scheduled period of work assigned to four or more miners by the operator";
An outline that all miner transport systems be maintained within 500ft of the mine's working face; and
An outline that no fewer than two separate, distinct intake openings or outlets must exist to the surface from every working coal seam, including specific distance requirements for openings and outlets.
The legislation is now back with the state Senate for its consideration of the amendments, he said.
Union sides with House on proposal passage
The largest industry union, the United Mine Workers of America, called the passage of the amended bill a "strong step forward" for miner safety in the state.
UMWA international president Cecil Roberts said the legislation brings laws more in line with other coal states and with federal regulations.
“Now this bill moves to a conference between the two houses to reach final agreement,” explained UMWA international secretary-treasurer Daniel Kane.
“We believe the bill passed by the House sets the standard that must be followed, and we strongly urge all conferees to remember who it is they are working for in this legislation – coal miners and, by extension, their families.
“They are the ones who need the enhanced protections included in the House version of the bill … [and] who put their lives on the line every day to energise our state and our nation – not the operators sitting back in their offices.”
Added Roberts of the union's optimism for the bill's future: “Indeed, in many areas, Pennsylvania will be a leader in the nation when it comes to safety in the coal mines.”