Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell this week ordered follow-up inspections of the state’s active underground mines in the next 30 days, citing the deaths of 16 mine workers in West Virginia since early January.
He also asked mine operators to observe the federal government’s call for one-time safety sessions for workers.
“What happened in West Virginia has affected all of us and it has drawn new attention on making sure every mine is safe and every miner does his job safely,” Rendell said in a statement.
Although the state routinely inspects mines, machinery, plans and maps, Rendell asked for additional inspections of roof-control plans, ventilation, cleanups, electrical equipment and rock-dusting procedures.
Twenty-five inspectors will perform the visits, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. Rendell’s order applies to the state’s 66 active underground coal mines and 11 industrial mineral mines, such as limestone and marble.
Pennsylvania is the nation’s fourth-largest coal producer. It has 5,100 miners employed at underground mines, according to the Rendell administration.
George Ellis, the president of the Pennsylvania Coal Association, which lobbies on behalf of the state’s biggest coal-mine owners, said he told the Rendell administration that his members are willing to meet the requests.
“It provides us with an opportunity to assess what we do, and ask, ‘Can we do it better?”‘ Ellis said.
Ten mine workers in Pennsylvania have died since the beginning of 2001, fifth-most among the states, according to the United Mine Workers of America. Nationally, more than 160 have died during that period, according to UMWA.
In 2002, a mine accident in western Pennsylvania drew national attention when nine men were trapped in an underground mine that flooded. They were rescued after 77 hours.
A UMWA official in Pennsylvania, Ed Yankovich, said he welcomes the action by Rendell, but added that lawmakers need to improve the safety requirements in legislation being considered as the first major update in 45 years to the state’s underground mining law.
At a hearing last week in the Capitol, Yankovich asked lawmakers to expand the legislation to mandate underground oxygen stations and wireless tracking and communication systems for miners. West Virginia mandated something similar last month.
Last week, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin asked all coal companies to cease production until safety checks can be conducted. David Dye, the acting U.S. assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, later issued a request for coal mines nationwide to take an hour to discuss safety with workers.
In Alabama, a judge last month determined regulators weren’t properly inspecting some of that state’s coal mines and ordered immediate new inspections.
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