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Opponents Claim KY Legislation Chips Away at Coal Miners' Safety

A pair of bills in the Kentucky General Assembly would scale back the state's mine safety laws, a move some fear could compromise coal miners. (Greg Stotelmyer)
A pair of bills in the Kentucky General Assembly would scale back the state's mine safety laws, a move some fear could compromise coal miners. (Greg Stotelmyer)
March 25, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Legislation that would end mandatory state safety training for mine foremen is just a House vote away from passage in the Kentucky General Assembly.

The upper chamber passed Senate Bill 224, 26 to 10, last week.

It would allow mine foremen to get safety training from an independent trainer or the federal government.

Mine safety attorney Tony Oppegard says the bill relaxes the mine safety requirement.

He says the current, annual training by the state's Division of Mine Safety is specialized, and tailored to Kentucky coal mining.

"It would put miners at a greater risk of death or serious injury," says Oppegard. "Foremen have to be specially trained because they have more responsibilities than the average miner."

Both the Kentucky Coal Association and Gov. Matt Bevin's administration support the bill as part of their efforts to reduce what they see as over-regulation of the coal industry.

The grassroots group Kentuckians For The Commonwealth opposes the bill. Member Teri Blanton comes from a family of coal miners.

"Putting dollars in front of men's safety is a big issue," she says. "And the safety of the miners should be number one in their minds."

Blanton says her dad died from black lung disease, and her brother suffered what eventually was a life-ending injury in a coal mine.

Oppegard sees the legislation as part of an ongoing effort to roll back parts of a landmark mine safety bill passed by Kentucky lawmakers in 2007, including 14 provisions that exceed federal mine safety rules.

"We still have miners in Kentucky working under unsafe conditions every day," Oppegard says. "We don't need to be lessening any protections that miners have now."

Another bill, which has also passed the Senate, would end state safety inspections of coal mines, leaving the job to federal inspectors.

That bill, Senate Bill 297, is now in the House Labor and Industry Committee.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY