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 Post subject: Latest mine safety bill defeated; mining operation to become
PostPosted: Sun Jan 16, 2011 9:35 am 
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Joined: Tue Jun 03, 2008 7:12 pm
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Location: Harrisburg, PA (or in the coal fields)
Latest mine safety bill defeated; mining operation to become recycling plant
By Ben Wolfgang (times-shamrock WRITER)
Published: January 6, 2011

ANDY MATSKO/TIMES-SHAMROCK PHOTO Jeremy Rittenbaugh, of Pine Grove, former plant operator at Summit Anthracite Inc., cuts a sheet of metal in preparation for the company's upcoming glass recycling plant.

GOOD SPRING - While the most recent mine safety bill failed in the U.S. House in December, some local miners say it doesn't really matter.

They believe federal regulations - not the lack thereof - have all but killed anthracite deep mining.

"It's really unbelievable how much damage the federal government has done to this industry and this area. The opportunities that were there for us, the federal government has destroyed for the next generation," said Mike Rothermel, co-owner of Summit Anthracite Inc., based in the village of Good Spring in Porter Township.

Rothermel's deep-mine operation has been shut down for nearly a decade. He and his workers are in the process of converting their facility into a glass recycling plant, which Rothermel said can be set up using the same equipment and personnel used for anthracite coal mining but at only 25 percent of the cost.

One of the biggest reasons for the industry's decline, Rothermel said, is that the Mine Safety and Health Administration and other regulatory agencies make virtually no distinction between anthracite and bituminous mines, which often differ greatly in topography and other factors.

That lack of distinction led U.S. Rep. Tim Holden, D-17, to vote against the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2010, which died in the House in early December.

Holden said it was the first mine safety bill he'd voted against during his nearly two decades in Congress.

"For 18 years, I've been trying to convince MSHA there is a difference between mining anthracite coal and mining bituminous coal," Holden said. "I've been trying ... to get people to look at the difference. Sooner or later, they have to listen."

The bill was spurred by the Upper Big Branch disaster in West Virginia earlier this year. Twenty-nine miners were killed in the April 5 mine explosion, accounting for most of the 48 coal miners killed on the job in 2010.

The bill would have: replaced a "pattern of violations" framework with a "pattern of recurring noncompliance or accidents" scheme, meaning the mine would be punished for sanctions or citations issued by MSHA even if they have not yet been proved; imposed pre-judgment penalties on mine companies if they challenged a citation from MSHA, leading some to argue the bill would compromise due process rights; and giving MSHA greater authority to impose severe penalties and even shut down mines, according to an analysis of the bill by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Upper Big Branch site is a bituminous mining operation, yet the bill would have applied to all types of coal mines.

MSHA admits the vast majority of coal regulations on the books don't distinguish between harder, denser anthracite coal and softer, more abundant bituminous coal. Different techniques are used to mine each kind of coal.

"The majority of regulations, it is true that it is the same whether it's bituminous or anthracite," said Kevin Stricklin, MSHA's administrator of coal mine safety and health. "Unfortunately, just about every regulation that has been put on the books is because someone's blood caused that to occur. I respect the anthracite mining operation's opinion that they think they're treated differently. But as a whole, I think we need to protect the miners, whether it be bituminous or anthracite. The bigger question is: What is the cost of a life?"

Rothermel likened across-the-board coal regulations to writing a cleaning law that applies equally to street sweeper operators or skyscraper window cleaners. In fact, he said safety measures needed in bituminous mines can sometimes be downright dangerous in the world of anthracite.

"If we follow the laws, we'll have people killed. The only way you can do this (deep mine anthracite) safely is if you break the law," he said. "This isn't fiction. This is fact. These mines must be worked differently."

Specifically, he cited regulations on how methane gas is treated inside mines. A methane gas explosion led to the Upper Big Branch disaster, increasing calls for more stringent rules on how the gas is controlled inside large bituminous mines, often more flat and even than anthracite operations.

Rothermel said such measures simply aren't necessary in smaller anthracite mines because of differences in topography. Not only can the measures be expensive, but Rothermel said they can actually increase risk in smaller anthracite mines.

"There are some things that are too small for the federal government to regulate," he said.

Rothermel said there are about 60 million tons of coal sitting underneath his property in and around Good Spring.

"We could have employed 200 people," he said. Instead, he and the six other employees at Summit Anthracite will sometime next year begin recycling glass. Rothermel said the process for removing porcelain from glass is similar to the process used for cleaning coal. The equipment they'll need is already in place, Rothermel said, and will require only minor adjustments and tweaks.

The demise of Summit Anthracite's mining operation isn't unusual, and many other anthracite miners are choosing to simply close up shop rather than pay rapidly rising costs and deal with miles of red tape, said Duane Feagley, executive director of the Pennsylvania Anthracite Council.

"The coal is there. You can get to it, but at some point it just becomes cost prohibitive," Feagley said. "The industry is so small. Most of the anthracite deep mines exist in Congressman Holden's district. No one else really cares about them."

Because of the small size of the industry, it's easier and more practical to lump deep mining operations into the same rule book as larger bituminous operations like Upper Big Branch, according to Feagley.

Political motivations often drive mine safety efforts, according to Rothermel. The latest safety bill was introduced by U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-California, chairman of House Education and Labor Committee.

After the bill was defeated, Miller said: "As other mine tragedies have showed us in the past, inaction today is paid for with the lives of hard-working miners tomorrow," according to a statement on his website.

Holden said he has "no idea" why Miller chose to bring up the bill last month, adding he feels the chairman should have waited until an investigation into the Upper Big Branch explosion is completed.

Rothermel agrees.

"Once you have politicians from California writing coal mine safety laws, those laws have nothing to do with mine safety," he said.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Jan 16, 2011 8:09 pm 
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Joined: Fri Jul 15, 2005 2:34 pm
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Location: Within 60 Miles of the Northern Anthracite Field
that was a good article........ wont do any good, but it was a good article.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Jan 16, 2011 8:25 pm 
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HA ha! *lifts hat*

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 Post subject: re
PostPosted: Sun Jan 23, 2011 9:09 pm 
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Location: philly 'burbs
Chris wrote:
that was a good article........ wont do any good, but it was a good article.


agreed!

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