The Bituminous Coal Mine Safety Act, known also as SB 949, was unanimously passed and now will go to the Pennsylvania House before Governor Edward Rendell signs off.
“Today’s vote is progress on the work we began, following the Quecreek Mine accident, to modernise our mine safety laws, create a framework to update mine safety regulations in the future, and hold mine operators responsible for the safety of their mines,” said Rendell.
“Coal mining has been a cornerstone of our economy for more than 200 years, and this law represents an historic achievement that allows Pennsylvania mines to remain competitive while protecting the safety of the hardworking miners that work in what can be dangerous conditions day in and day out.”
The state began regulating mine safety in 1869, but it was not until 1961 that the laws would see any updates. No further amendments have been made since then.
Among the areas of change included in SB 949 is the creation of a seven-member Board of Coal Mine Safety chaired by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection secretary that would provide opportunity for equal representation by mine owners and workers.
It would also secure safety initiatives that were initially enacted administratively by Rendell after the Quecreek mine accident of 2002 in Pennsylvania that miraculously killed none but left nine trapped.
Included in Rendell's push is a requirement of safety officials to examine all mine permit applications with the option to say "no" if unsafe conditions are believed to exist; the placement of new regulations to "validate and verify" all mine maps for underground mines before production can commence; and an increase from 200ft to 500ft in planned mining from abandoned workings.
“Once enacted, this bill will remove antiquated references to animals and stables in mines and gives us the ability to quickly adapt to the realities of 21st century mining technology,” added Rendell.
The bill was sponsored by state Senator Richard Kasunic, who named the legislation "949" as a symbolic gesture to then-governor Mark Schweiker's exclamation "Nine for nine!" after all the miners at Quecreek were rescued alive.