SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today announced that Saturday will mark the third consecutive year Illinois coal mines have gone without a fatality, a milestone never before achieved in Illinois. While the past 36 months are proof that the state’s aggressive mine safety measures are helping to keep miners safe, Gov. Blagojevich also proposed legislation being considered in the General Assembly to improve further mine safety. Senate Bill 929, sponsored by Sen. Gary Forby (D-Benton) and Rep. Dan Reitz (D-Steelville), includes provisions to aid both rescuers and miners in an accident.
“Thousands of men and women go to work in the mines every day. They work in dangerous and unpredictable conditions. Fortunately, for three straight years, things have been safe. In large part, that’s because we have aggressive inspections and safety procedures. But we can do more. That’s why we’re working with Senate President Jones and House Speaker Madigan to pass legislation that requires additional precautions to keep our miners safe,” said Gov. Blagojevich.
Illinois coal miner safety is the number one priority of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ (IDNR) 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.
“We can create hundreds of policies and procedures miners need to follow to remain safe, but if they aren’t being followed, then they’re doing no good. We’ve refocused our efforts in Mines and Minerals to teach Illinois miners how to work smarter so that they can avoid hazardous situations,” said Joe Angleton, director of the Office of Mines and Minerals for IDNR.
“In January, Gov. Blagojevich called for the addition of four new mine inspectors to the department’s Office of Mines and Minerals. These additional inspectors will help to ensure safety in an industry that is reemerging here in Illinois,” said Acting IDNR Director Sam Flood.
Senate Bill 929 includes provisions that require the installation of emergency communication/tracking devices in all mines, directional markings that clearly indicate escape routes, stricter certification standards for supervisors and independent contractors, and the formation of a task force to review new mine safety technologies and equipment.
“This milestone is a credit to the hard work and diligence of our miners, aggressive inspection and safety procedures in Illinois, and the commitment to the coal industry Governor Blagojevich has demonstrated since taking office three years ago,” said Mike Woods, Manager of the Office of Mines and Minerals and President of the Illinois Mine Rescue Association.
“This milestone cannot be understated,” said Illinois Coal Association President Phil Gonet. “Our miners should be proud, our industry should be proud and the people of Illinois should be proud of the effort that has gone into making Illinois coal mining a safer occupation.”
Illinois’ coal industry is growing for the first time in over a decade. 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.
Since coming into office, Gov. Blagojevich has demonstrated his commitment to revitalizing Illinois’ coal industry:
§ In January, the Governor introduced a comprehensive mine safety bill that will help keep Illinois miners safe in case of a mine emergency.
§ 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 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.