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Gov. Beshear approves hiring new mine inspectors, permit reviewers




FRANKFORT

Gov. Steve Beshear approved an increase this week in the number of Kentucky coal mine inspectors and mine permit reviewers for the state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet.

Beshear approved an additional 15 new mine inspectors in an effort to help the state meet its required mine inspections. The governor also approved the addition of 19 new mine permit reviewers — 16 permanent slots and three interim positions.

“It’s excellent news,” mine safety advocate Tony Oppegard said. “It’s the safest day of the year for coal miners when inspectors are present. The more days inspectors are present on the job, the more likely it is that they’re going to observe safety problems and less likely that miners will be killed or injured.”

The new mine inspectors will be paid for with revenue generated by Kentucky’s severance tax on coal. New assessments on coal mining permit applications, plus a federal match, are expected to raise enough money to cover the cost of adding new permit reviewers, Beshear said.

About $1.3 million in coal severance money is going toward paying for the new mine inspectors, Linda Potter, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department for Natural Resources said.

Assessments on mine permit applications will vary, Potter said.

Currently, mine applicants pay a base $375 permit fee. Under Beshear’s emergency regulation that went into effect Tuesday afternoon, Potter said, minor revisions will cost $375; amendments or major revisions will cost $1,375; and new permit applications will be assessed $2,125.

Potter said she expects the additional people assigned to review mine applications should hasten the process.

Earlier this year, a measure in the Kentucky General Assembly would have reduced the number of inspections performed by the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing. It would have still required six visits from inspectors, but the trips could have involved other activities such as mine rescue training.

The measure failed.

In 2006, 16 Kentucky coal miners were killed on the job, including five deaths from a single underground mine explosion in Harlan County. Seventy-three miners were killed across the country that year, including 12 in an explosion at the Sago Mine in West Virginia.

The following year, Congress and legislatures in coal-producing states reacted with new mine safety laws.

Adding new mine inspectors is expected to help the state meets its required inspections.

Kentucky requires six annual inspections per mine, while federal law calls for four underground mine inspections each year.

“Our state law is more stringent than the federal law,” Oppegard said. “Most companies run less coal on the days when inspectors are present. They’re spending more time on safety and less on production.”


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