SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today recognized the seven-member mine rescue team from Illinois for their bravery and selflessness after being called to assist in the rescue efforts of 13 miners in West Virginia last week. The rescue team from Illinois is from the Viper mine near Williamsville, a subsidiary of the International Coal Group, which also owns the Sago Mine. The Governor proclaimed January 12, 2006, ‘Viper Mine Rescue Crew Day” commending the team for their sacrifice and willingness to help fellow miners.
The Governor also strengthened the state’s commitment to the safety of Illinois’ coal industry by adding four more inspectors to the state’s Mine Safety division – bringing the total number of inspectors to twelve.
“The tragedy at the Sago mine in West Virginia serves as a reminder to all of us, what an important yet dangerous job mining can be. The level of courage these men displayed is remarkable,” Blagojevich said. “As the Illinois coal industry continues to grow, it is our responsibility to ensure that the men and women who put their lives on the line to harness this important energy source are as safe as possible.”
“As Illinois prepares for the new mines, we must be prepared to continue our state’s exceptional mine safety record over the past two and a half years. The Governor’s decision to add more inspectors will help us do that,” said Joe Angleton, the director of Office of Mines and Minerals in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
2004 and 2005 were fatality-free in the state’s coal and aggregate mines, marking the first time in history Illinois has gone two consecutive years without a coal miner death. The current statistical year, ending in April, also has been fatality free. Illinois coal miner safety is the number one priority of the state Office of Mines and Minerals. State law requires a mine be inspected once a month, however, state mine inspectors often visit mining operations with more frequency to ensure compliance. Routine inspections of coal mines include checking for proper ventilation, and hazardous conditions underground and on the surface of a mine, ensuring roof and rib control procedures are being followed and making sure miners are working safely and properly.
Three new mines are expected to come on line in Illinois in 2006 – further evidence that the coal industry is making a comeback in Illinois. The industry began to decline in the 1990s, after tougher federal sulfur emission standards were put in place. Since then, advances in clean-coal technology have made it possible to burn Illinois coal and still meet the strictest air-quality standards in the nation.
Illinois now has the most aggressive package of incentives in the nation to spur clean coal fueled power plant development and provide other support for the Illinois coal industry. In July 2003, Governor Blagojevich signed a law that added $300 million in revenue bonds to the Coal Revival Program, which provides major tax and financing incentives to large clean coal fueled projects.
With Governor Blagojevich’s leadership, the state has invested $64.7 million in coal development projects, including the Peabody Energy Electric Prairie State project in Washington County, and the Taylorville Energy Center, a coal gasification project in Christian County. Also included is more than $45 million in grants to Illinois coal operators who upgrade their facilities to make their product more competitive, well as more than $11 million for advanced research through the Illinois Clean Coal Institute.
Governor Blagojevich also has led an effort with the Illinois Congressional delegation to tout Illinois’ advantages as a site for the US Department of Energy’s proposed FutureGen Project, which will demonstrate making electric power and hydrogen fuel from coal with near zero harmful emissions. The project site is expected to be chosen within the next year.
In the 1980’s, Illinois employed over 18,000 coal miners, producing more than 60 million tons of coal per year. Today, despite a 77 percent reduction in workforce, Illinois coal companies still produce 32 million tons of coal annually, with production up nearly 10 percent in the past two years.
Over 50 percent of all electricity used in the United States comes from coal, and Illinois’ supply is among the most abundant in the world. “At our current production level, which is more on a tons-per-man basis that ever, we have enough coal in Illinois to meet the energy needs of the entire nation for the next 200 years,” Angleton said
In terms of energy value, Illinois coal has more BTU’s or British thermal units, than the oil supplies of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined.
The Governor’s proclamation reads as follows:
WHEREAS, we have all just witnessed a sad, sad tragedy. On the morning of Monday, January 2, a coal mine explosion trapped 13 miners 260 feet below ground in Sago Mine in Tallmansville, West Virginia; and
WHEREAS, in the immediate aftermath, International Coal Group dispatched a rescue team from Viper Mine in Williamsville, Illinois. The International Coal Group owns both mines in West Virginia and Illinois; and
WHEREAS, Viper Mine is about 10 miles north of Springfield, and employs approximately 250 men and women. Within two hours after they received the call, the Viper Mine’s seven-man rescue crew, a few of whom were on vacation, were on a plane en route to the disaster scene 630 miles away, and a second plane carried their gear; and
WHEREAS, the Viper team was among the first on the ground at the disaster site, and the only rescue crew from Illinois. As the situation unfolded, and rescue operations continued into Tuesday, the news became increasingly discouraging. Tests Tuesday morning showed the levels of carbon monoxide considerably higher than the level immediately dangerous to life and health. However, miners and their families in West Virginia and in central Illinois were holding out for a miracle; and
WHEREAS, Central Illinois miners were being briefed on the rescue effort at the beginning of each shift and keeping up with the news via televisions in the mine office’s common areas. Late Tuesday, rescue crews found one trapped miner dead, but they held out hope the others were still alive; and
WHEREAS, unfortunately, news circulated Wednesday morning that all but one of the trapped miners died. Our hearts go out to all their friends and families, and to the entire mining community; and
WHEREAS, although their rescue attempt did not save the trapped miners, their deaths do not diminish the audacious courage and bravery of the Viper team, who deserve our heartfelt thanks and admiration. Their names, which had been withheld during operations in deference to their families, are Pete Bryant, Brett Bushong, Ty Hunt, Brad Kauffman, Paul Perrine, Brandon Sanson, and Alan Setzer:
THEREFORE, I Rod R. Blagojevich, Governor of the State of Illinois, do hereby proclaim January 12, 2006 VIPER MINE RESCUE CREW DAY, and recognize and commend the Viper team for their selfless sacrifice and willingness to help fellow miners, the loss of whom we all grieve and to whose families I offer my most profound condolences and sympathies.