Governor Rod Blagojevich recently proposed legislation being considered in the General Assembly to improve further mine safety.
Senate Bill 929 includes provisions that require the installation of emergency communication/tracking devices in all mines, directional markings that clearly indicate escape routes, stricter certification standards for supervisors and independent contractors, and the formation of a task force to review new mine safety technologies and equipment.
State law currently requires a mine to be inspected once a month; however, state mine inspectors often visit mining operations with more frequency to ensure compliance.
Routine inspections of coal mines include checking for proper ventilation and hazardous conditions underground and on the surface of a mine, ensuring roof and rib control procedures are being followed, and making sure miners are working safely and properly.
Illinois has done much over the past few years to not only ensure the safety of its industry, but also to revitalise the coal sector.
Since 2003, the state has invested $US64.7 million in coal development projects, including the Peabody Energy Electric Prairie State project in Washington County, and the Taylorville Energy Center, a coal gasification project in Christian County.
Grants totalling $45 million have also been awarded to Illinois coal operators who upgrade their facilities to make their product more competitive; and more than $11 million has been granted for advanced research through the Illinois Clean Coal Institute.
In July 2003, Governor Blagojevich signed a law that added $300 million in revenue bonds to the Coal Revival Program, which provides major tax and financing incentives to large clean coal-fuelled projects.
Illinois is also bidding to be the site for the US Department of Energy’s proposed FutureGen project, which will demonstrate making electric power and hydrogen fuel from coal with near zero harmful emissions. The project site is expected to be chosen within the next year.
Three new mines are expected to come on line in Illinois in 2006 – further evidence that the coal industry is making a comeback in Illinois. The industry began to decline in the 1990s, after tougher federal sulfur emissions standards were put in place. Since then, advances in clean-coal technology have made it possible to burn Illinois coal and still meet the strictest air-quality standards.