Senate panel in Kentucky approves bills to ammend state’s mine-safety laws

March 9, 2016

Two bills that aim to reduce redundancy and provide financial relief to Kentucky’s coal industry were passed by a state Senate committee on March 9.

Senate Bill 297 would end state safety inspections of coal mines, leaving the task to federal inspectors. Senate Bill 224 would end mandatory state safety training for mine foremen, giving coal companies the option of offering their own training for foremen to save money, The Lexington Kentucky Herald reported.

The Kentucky Coal Association and Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration are backing the two Senate bills. They told the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy that the beleaguered coal industry needs relief from over-regulation to help it survive the collapse in demand for its product.

If passed, the bills will eliminate redundancy of having state and federal inspectors in mines by eliminating the provision calling for both inspectors.

Sen. Chris Girdler, R-Somerset, the sponsor of SB 297, walked the committee through recent data on job losses and production declines in Kentucky’s coal industry. Girdler blamed government for the problems. There are relatively few mines left in Kentucky getting a disproportionate amount of regulatory oversight, he said.

“I’m for the free markets along with rational oversight deciding what is most efficient and what is best, not the government picking winners and losers,” Girdler said. “That is exactly what we have seen over the past eight years with over-burdensome regulations and gotcha games and a presidential administration that makes no bones about their desire to put the coal industry out of business.”

Nobody is trying to put profits above miners’ safety, Girdler told the committee.

The committee voted 6 to 1 to approve SB 297, which would end the inspection duties of the Kentucky Division of Mine Safety and Licensing and turn them entirely over to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. The bill proceeds to the full Senate.

Currently, the state inspects underground mines for safety hazards at least six times a year and surface mines at least twice a year. The state has somewhat different responsibilities and greater enforcement powers than MSHA, which must check underground mines at least four times a year and surface mines twice a year.

Next, the Senate committee voted 7 to 1 to approve SB 224 and send that bill to the full Senate.

SB 224, sponsored by Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, would allow coal companies to offer their own safety training for mine foremen based on federal workplace standards for mine examiners. The companies no longer would have to send foremen to six hours of annual training provided by the state Division of Mine Safety and Licensing. The training emphasizes mistakes made by foremen that led to disciplinary actions. That measure passed 7-1 and will move to the full Senate.

The votes came 40 years to the hour after an explosion caused by the build-up of coal dust and methane rocked the Scotia Mine near Letcher County’s Oven Fork community. Two days after the blast, a second explosion occurred. The death toll was 26 miners and mine inspectors; faulty equipment and inadequate ventilation were blamed.

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