Pennsylvania Updates 125-Year-Old Bituminous Deep Mine Safety Law

Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell this week signed the first major update of the commonwealth’s 125-year-old bituminous deep mine safety law, saying the new recommendations will ensure better protection for the Pennsylvania’s 4,200 underground bituminous coal miners. The new law incorporates recommendations to improve safety conditions that were made following the 2002 Quecreek accident in Somerset County, and it creates a process to update mine safety regulations in the future. Rendell said the law also allows Pennsylvania mines to be competitive in the national and international markets while holding mine operators responsible for the safety of their mines.

“Our miners and their families face the dangers of working underground every day to provide us with the energy we need to carry on our way of life,” Rendell said. “We owe it to them to provide a safe workplace.

“This industry and its dedicated workers have been a cornerstone of our economy for more than 200 years. Thanks to the hard work of the legislature and representatives of labor and industry, we have enacted one of the nation’s strongest mine safety laws, which completes the work begun following the Quecreek Mine accident.”

Pennsylvania began regulating mine safety in 1869. Its bituminous mine safety law was written in 1883, but it had not been updated since 1961. The new law creates a seven-member Board of Coal Mine Safety that will be chaired by the secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, with equal representation among mine owners and mine workers. The board will have the authority to write new mine safety regulations—something the department is unable to do through existing statute.

In addition, the new law:

  • Makes the mine owner or operator primarily responsible for safety compliance at the mine and allows DEP to assess fines and penalties for noncompliance. Currently, only individually certified employees or supervisors, such as foremen, can be held responsible for an accident, not the mine company or its executives.
  • Increases to 500 feet from 200 feet the distance from which a bituminous underground operator must conduct advanced drilling when approaching an adjacent mine that may contain water or gas to provide an extra measure of security so miners don’t accidentally breech an abandoned mine pool, as happened at Quecreek.
  • Authorizes the department to use emergency contracting provisions to pay for mine rescue and other mine safety activities.

In October, Rendell signed the Mine Families First Act into law to ensure that families of miners involved in underground emergencies are treated with dignity and respect while they await information on their loved ones. The act establishes a plan for notifying families about the status of their relatives and the progress of rescue operations; provides for transportation to and from a place for family members to gather; institutes security measures to ensure privacy; and provides counseling through social service organizations.

Pennsylvania is the fourth largest coal-producing state, following Wyoming, West Virginia, and Kentucky, with 35 underground bituminous mines reporting production in 2007, including four of the six highest-producing underground mines in the nation. More than 20,000 bituminous coal miners have died in accidents since the commonwealth began keeping records in 1877. For more information on underground mine safety, visit www.depweb.state.pa.us, keyword: Mine Safety.

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