The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee this week approved Senate Bill 949 (Kasunic-D-Somerset) making the first comprehensive revisions to the Bituminous Coal Mine Safety Act in 45 years, in-part based on recommendations made after the 2002 Quecreek Mine Rescue.
"I am thrilled that this bill, which incorporates the findings and recommendations of numerous studies and expert testimony, has earned bipartisan support," Sen. Kasunic said. "I am hopeful that this legislation, once enacted, will help us prevent future accidents like the ones that took place at Quecreek and Sago."
He said his bill incorporates key recommendations from the Governor's Commission on Abandoned Mine Voids and Mine Safety, the Quecreek investigation team, and the Quecreek Grand Jury.
"The bill also contains numerous resolutions to issues that have been debated within the mining industry for decades," Sen. Kasunic said "Most importantly, Senate Bill 949 includes several long overdue provisions that would help our mining law keep pace with technological advances and further ensure the safety of those who work in the mines."
“Mining has a long, proud tradition in Pennsylvania, producing jobs for communities and energy for the nation. Enactment of this legislation will represent the culmination of a strenuous effort to make this inherently dangerous job safer,” said Sen. Mary Jo White (R-Venango), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.
Sen. White, Minority Chairman Sen. Ray Musto (D-Luzerne) and the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kasunic, worked closely with Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty, DEP officials, coal mine operators and mine union officials in preparing the legislation. Pennsylvania’s mine safety statute was last updated in 1961.
The bill would—
· Create a Coal Mine Safety Board to promulgate regulations and continually review and recommend the use of new mine safety technologies. The Board would be composed of representatives from the industry, labor, and DEP. A key shortcoming of our current law is the inability of any entity to promulgate regulations;
· Provide the specifications for emergency shelter chambers in underground mines;
· Better ensures the availability and transfer of maps to DEP, as well as giving DEP statewide authority to copy all mine maps; enables DEP to establish a central map repository database;
· Bring state law in line with federal standards where appropriate;
· Eliminate obsolete language and provides clarity where practicable; and
· Provide for greater responsibility for operators to ensure the safety within mines.
"Today's committee vote marks a monumental first step in updating an antiquated law and better protecting Pennsylvania's miners," said DEP Secretary Kathleen McGinty. "We should be able to use 21st century technology to protect our miners. We shouldn't be hampered by a 19th century law. This board will enable the department to keep pace with new developments and to ensure the latest technology is at work for a safe environment underground.”
“By putting a board in place to regularly update standards, we won’t have the Legislature trying to micromanage the mining process, in which today’s technology can be outdated by the time the ink on a bill dries,” said Sen. White. “The governor indicated he supports this measure, and I hope it will move through the Legislature and be enacted as soon as possible.”
The bill was amended in Committee, reported out, then referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
For more information and an online video of the meeting, visit the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee webpage.
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