SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today applauded members of the Illinois House for unanimously passing legislation to provide additional safety precautions to protect Illinois miners. House Bill 2197, sponsored by Rep. Dan Reitz (D-Sparta) would aid both rescuers and miners if an accident occurred. Gov. Blagojevich proposed the legislation in January following the tragic West Virginia mine accidents that killed 14 miners. HB 2197 now moves on to the Senate.
“As coal mining re-emerges in Illinois, we need to make sure that the men and women who go underground every day are safe,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “I commend members of the House for doing their part to protect our miners and I urge the Senate to follow suit.”
2004 and 2005 were fatality-free in Illinois’ coal and aggregate mines, marking the first time in state history Illinois has gone two consecutive years without a fatality. The current statistical year, ending in April, also has been fatality free.
"I have been working with the Office of Mines and Minerals, United Mine Workers, and Illinois Coal Association to craft this legislation," Rep. Reitz said. "With these changes, it is my hope that if there is an accident at one of our mines, we will be prepared to respond, and our miners will have the tools they need to survive."
“It is imperative that we do everything in our power to ensure the safety of Illinois miners. This legislation provides common sense actions such as requiring lifelines in our mines to make sure that miners can find their way to the surface even if their vision is impaired from an accident. We should do all that we can to ensure that all of Illinois' miners return home to their families each night,” said Sen. Deanna Demuzio (D-Carlinville).
“In light of the tragedies that have hit coal mining families in West Virginia and Kentucky, we need to double our efforts to protect those who make their living going underground to mine coal. Updating mine rescue stations, like the ones in Benton and Harrisburg, using transponders to locate trapped miners and ensuring there are extra supplies of oxygen available in case of an emergency will give our miners a better chance at surviving an accident. These efforts will go a long way in making sure they leave their job safe and secure at the end of the day,” Sen. Gary Forby (D-Benton) said.
House Bill 2197 includes:
- Self Contained Self Rescuers (SCSRs): SCSRs are designed to supply an individual with one hour of oxygen for use in an emergency situation, and are currently required by federal regulation to be available to miners. While SCSRs can provide some protection, more than an hour of travel would be required to reach the surface of many of Illinois’ mines. Therefore, every miner would be required to wear an SCSR while underground, but also that caches of SCSRs be placed throughout the mine for use during a longer escape.
- Emergency Communication/Tracking System: The new legislation would require the installation of a wireless communication device capable of receiving emergency communications from the surface at any location throughout a mine. Mine operators would be required to install in or around the mine any and all equipment necessary to transmit emergency communications. In addition, a tracking system would provide real-time monitoring of the physical location of each person underground. Operators would be required to install the wireless tracking equipment necessary for such monitoring and to provide every miner with a tracking device to be worn while underground.
- Mine Rescue Stations: Illinois currently operates mine rescue stations in Springfield, Benton, Harrisburg, and Sparta. However, only two of those stations are MSHA certified. Additionally, the state has agreements with all the underground mines to provide personnel to staff the stations, but there are no stipulations on how many people each company must provide. The new legislation would mandate reasonable participation in mine rescue teams by coal companies, as well as require certification of all mine rescue stations.
- Lifelines & Taglines: State law already requires that each mine have two different ways of exiting a mine in the event of an emergency, each marked with reflectors. However, these reflectors can be impossible to locate in the event of a fire. To ensure that all miners can escape quickly, this provision would require lifelines along the escape routes. The lifelines would be required to have cones indicating the direction to the surface. Miners would be able to hold the lifeline and find their way to the surface, avoiding any disorientation due to impaired visibility. It would also require tag lines, which miners, in the event of an emergency, would be required to use. The tag lines would connect a group of miners together preventing individual miners from becoming lost.
- Return Entry to Aid in Egress: In addition to the two escape routes mandated by state law, every mine has a third passageway that is utilized as a return. The new legislation would require that the return entry be marked with reflectors or other signage to give a clear indication of an alternative path to the surface in the event the mandated escapeways are blocked.
- Transportation of Workers: While mine operators must maintain a vehicle suitable to transport sick or injured workers, transportation is not mandated in any other circumstance. Therefore, an entire unit or group of miners could be left without mechanical transportation for a distance of many miles underground. In most instances, this distance would far exceed a miner’s ability to walk out of a mine utilizing a SCSR. In order to remedy this situation, the Governor’s proposal mandates that mechanical transportation be available on each working section of a mine and that this transportation be of adequate size to transport all miners working in said section to the surface.
- Independent Contractor supervisor: Illinois mining operations routinely utilize contractors for specialized projects or to assist the regular workforce. Unlike the mining workforce, contractors are not certified by the State and may not have received adequate training. This legislation would require mine operators to have at least one certified supervisor independent contractor to oversee independent contractors or their employees.
- General Surface Supervisor: The new legislation would amend the Coal Mining Act to require that individuals who supervise underground mine surface facilities, coal preparation plants and independent contractors engaged in the construction, demolition or dismantling of facilities, obtain competency certification from OMM.
- Methane Extraction: In order to ensure the safety of miners, the legislation would prohibit methane extraction from sealed areas of active mines, as well as from abandoned mines that are attached to active workings.
- Rescue Chambers: The new legislation would require the construction of a rescue chamber in underground mines to protect miners against potential hazards in case of an emergency. The chamber is to be equipped with first aid materials, an oxygen generating device, and proper accommodations for persons underground awaiting rescue.
- Telecommunications Center: In order to ensure a quick and efficient means of disseminating duties and responsibilities to those involved in mining emergency response, the legislation would permit the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to utilize the telecommunications center maintained by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.
“This is another step to ensure that Illinois continues to be a leader in mines safety," said Office of Mines and Minerals Director Joe Angleton. “I commend Governor Blagojevich for his continued leadership on this issue and his commitment to helping the coal industry make a triumphant return in Illinois.”
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.
Since 2003, 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, as 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.