Bill would change the way coal mines are inspected in Kentucky

Published: Mar. 12, 2017 at 9:06 PM EDT
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House Bill 384 would change the way coal mines are inspected in Kentucky.

The bill calls for fewer mine safety inspections than years past. Some say this will make the mines safer, while others disagree.

At one point, Kentucky required six inspections per year after there were several mine disasters. However, a provision in last year's budget bill brought the number of inspections down to four - requiring at least two full electrical inspections.

House Bill 384 requires three state mine inspections with only one full electrical inspection. It instead focuses on a safety analysis program, which has been around for a while. The program monitors the behavior of coal miners.

"The problem with it is we haven't had funds or discretion to dedicate the time or personnel to that program," said Kentucky Coal Association President Tyler White.

Opponents of the bill say the existing inspections are necessary and the bill does not add anything new.

"It is just misleading legislators by saying we have this new behavioral-based program that we are substituting for inspections when in fact that program has been in place for decades," said attorney and mine safety advocate, Tony Oppegard.

Supporters say the bill provides a way to deal with budget constraints and a lack of manpower at the Division of Mine Safety. They say it avoids duplicating federal efforts, which require four inspections per year.

"We are just looking at this and saying, hey (since we have limited resources) why don't we take some of those resources and look at safety in a different way," White said. "Why just look at conditions when we know behavior is a major player in preventing mine accidents?"

If the bill passes, some say miners would be at a greater risk. To people like Oppegard, the fact there are fewer mines makes inspections even more important.

"There's great pressure on miners because they want to keep their job," Oppegard said. "A lot of them have to face this choice: Do I want to keep my job and support my family? Or, am I going to risk my life by doing something that I know is dangerous or unsafe but I am being told to do in this rush for coal production?"

The bill overwhelmingly passed the House. It is now in the Senate Rules Committee and could be sent to the floor for a vote this week.