Pa. Mine Operators Criticize Proposals

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Pennsylvania coal mine operators on Thursday said enhanced safety regulations and pending changes in state and federal laws were knee- jerk reactions to a few mining tragedies in other states.

"They think that something that happens in West Virginia and Kentucky affects everyone the same. We run differently here," said Alan Polka, general superintendent of T.J.S. Mining Inc., which operates a coal mine in Shelocta, Indiana County.

Mine operators and industry officials gathered yesterday in Greensburg for an annual conference sponsored by the Pittsburgh Coal Mining Institute and the Pennsylvania Coal Association.

The conference comes amidst what is becoming the deadliest period for coal miners in recent years. So far this year, 33 miners have been killed in accidents at mines throughout the United States. Nineteen of those deaths were in West Virginia, including the Jan. 2 explosion at Sago Mine in Upshur County, W.Va., where 12 miners were trapped underground.

On the heels of the Sago disaster, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration imposed a temporary set of stricter safety regulations. Congress and the Pennsylvania legislature are debating separate laws that would require stronger precautionary measures.

The U.S. Senate last month passed a safety bill that includes requirements that each miner have two hours' supply of oxygen, that additional supplies be placed in the mine, and that mine operators increase communications with government officials.

The bill has stalled in the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering a proposal from Gov. Ed Rendell to strengthen the state's mine safety requirements.

"There's been a knee-jerk reaction to events that occurred in our industry," said Bob Bohach, safety manager at Foundation Coal's Cumberland Mine in Waynesburg, Greene County. "There is too much of a focus on what happens if there is an incident. We need to put our attention on prevention. …