A budget cut in the state office that inspects the safety of mining sites is forcing a reduction in its staff.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that the staff of 141 full-time positions at the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing will be cut to 88, a reduction of 37 percent.
The Energy and Environment Cabinet announced the agency’s reorganization on Friday.
Cabinet Secretary Len Peters said in a release that the state “will be challenged to make the inspections necessary to keep our miners safe.”
Under the reorganization, the mine safety office and its two divisions will be abolished and replaced by an agency called the Division of Mine Safety within the Department for Natural Resources.
Gov. Steve Beshear ordered the changes in response to a 30 percent cut the legislature made to the mine office’s budget for the two-year fiscal period that begins July 1. Beshear had proposed a 5 percent reduction for the agency.
Lawmakers who supported the move, as well as the coal industry, said the agency didn’t need as much money because of a steep decline in coal production in eastern Kentucky, which has left fewer mines to inspect. Production in the region has dropped by more than a third over the last five years.
Lawmakers also cut the number of state safety inspections required annually at each mine, from six to four.
Tony Oppegard, a Lexington attorney who formerly worked for the state and federal mine-safety agencies and represents miners, said the inspections reduction will endanger mine workers.
“For the guys who are still working, why should they get fewer inspections than before?” he said.