Anything is possible, but it seems unlikely that a Senate bill to abolish state mine safety inspections will pass the General Assembly this year. Legislators are scheduled to return to Frankfort next week for one day before concluding this year’s regular session.
Senate Bill 297 would repeal parts of Kentucky law that require state mine inspectors to examine underground coal mines at least six times a year, and other coal mines at least once every six months. Instead of mine inspectors, the state would employ mine safety analysts who would focus on compliance assistance rather than enforcement. Under the provisions of a last-minute amendment by bill sponsor Sen. Chris Girdler, the analysts would be appointed by the governor.
The bill is supported by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet — which is currently responsible for mine inspections — and the Kentucky Coal Association, who say the state and federal government duplicate each other’s efforts. It’s opposed by mine safety advocates, who say state inspections play an essential role in keeping coal mines safe.
The legislation passed the Senate 25-11 last month, but has yet to clear a House committee.
Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo has indicated his chamber isn’t as favorable to the bill. Stumbo spokesman Brian Wilkerson said the House version of the budget provides a clue to the legislative body’s position:
“Notwithstanding KRS 351.140, the number of mandatory mine safety inspections to be carried out by the Division of Mine Safety shall be equal to the number of mine safety inspections required annually by the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The Energy and Environment Cabinet shall take no action that would diminish the requirement that a trained mine rescue team be within 60 minutes of every underground mine licensed by the Department for Natural Resources as required by KRS 351.191.”
Wilkerson said considering that the mine safety bill hasn’t moved through a House committee and hasn’t had any readings on the House floor, its passage is unlikely in the session’s one remaining day next week. But it’s not impossible.
“What we’re looking at right now, the last day, anything could be done,” Wilkerson said. “They could do whatever they choose to do, if the majority of members in the House and Senate choose to do it.”
Another mine safety bill sponsored by Sen. Brandon Smith, a Republican from Hazard, is closer to passage. Senate Bill 224 would eliminate mandatory state safety training for mine foremen. The bill would allow companies to provide their own training. It has passed the Senate and is on the verge of approval in the House.
The Kentucky General Assembly will reconvene on April 12.