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Crandall Canyon Mine Disaster families urge mine safety bill passage

Published January 16, 2008 1:04 am
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WASHINGTON - Those who lost loved ones in the Crandall Canyon mine disaster say a bill scheduled for a vote in the House today is a necessary step to improve mine safety.

But the White House doesn't think so, and neither do many Republicans in Congress. They look at the bill, known as the S-Miner Act, as a Democratic attempt to undo a 2006 mine law that has not yet been fully implemented. President Bush's senior advisers have threatened a veto.

"That makes me mad," said Lucille Erickson, of Price, whose son Don was one of the six miners fatally trapped in the original implosion at the Huntington mine.

Three rescue workers died in a subsequent collapse.

Erickson is one of 16 family members who signed the letter to Congress, which states: "Even though this legislation cannot bring back our loved ones, we hope that something positive will come out of that horrific tragedy."

The S-Miner Act is not a direct reaction to the Crandall Canyon disaster, but Democrats did alter the bill after the mine collapse.

The bill calls for more oversight of retreat mining, a process where coal pillars supporting the roof are removed, causing a cave-in. Critics say this process becomes increasingly dangerous as the mine reaches below 1,500 underground.

The Crandall Canyon implosion took place 1,900 feet down.

The bill would also place the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) squarely in control of a rescue site, including communicating with family members. Crandall Canyon co-owner Robert Murray has been sharply criticized for his interactions with family members after the mine collapse.

And it would require coal mines to start installing advanced tracking technology by June 2009.

Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, is one of the bill's co-sponsors.

He said it would help prevent accidents and improve emergency communications. Unions also back the bill. But federal mine regulators and mine owners are fighting to defeat it.

MSHA leaders told Congress the bill is "unrealistic and unlikely" to make miners safer.

David Litvin, of the Utah Mining Association, calls the S-Miner Act "extremely premature" even though he feels for the Crandall Canyon families.

A bill passed by Congress in 2006 has yet to be implemented and this new legislation will just add more requirements, many of which are unnecessary, Litvin said.

MSHA's investigation into Crandall Canyon hasn't been completed.

The bill would create multiple investigations after a disaster, which White House advisers argue would make it more difficult to punish negligent mine operators.

Ed Havas, attorney for the Crandall Canyon families, said that argument doesn't hold up. "The more eyes you put on a situation" the better, he said.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, criticizes the bill more broadly. He voted against this bill when it came before the House Education and Labor Committee, calling it an extreme set of regulations.

"I'm concerned that with a one-size-fits-all approach to mines across the country, certain provisions of this bill would actually make Utah mines less safe," Bishop said.

Erickson, who is related to a Crandall Canyon victim, said the bill isn't boilerplate, rather it responds to Western concerns, specifically retreat mining.

"We definitely need different codes out here. We go so much deeper," she said. MSHA "was going by all the safety rules they have back East. And that did not work - as they found out."


* Tribune reporter MIKE GORRELL contributed to this report.

Miner act aims:

* To add safeguards to ''retreat'' mining, the type of mining that was being done at Crandall Canyon, where nine people died in August.

* To improve emergency response to mine sites.

* To give MSHA subpoena authority.

* To increase penalties for safety violations.

* To create an ombudsman's office to handle miners' safety complaints.

Source: The Associated Press




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