State Mine Commission Hears Testimony in Huntington

State Mine Commission Hears Testimony in Huntington

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HUNTINGTON, Utah (AP) -- Local miners told the Utah Mine Safety Commission that more regulations would do little to improve safety at the state's mines.

The commission was formed by Gov. Jon Huntsman to explore whether Utah should begin regulating its mines after the Crandall Canyon mine collapses, which resulted in 9 deaths. The commission met Tuesday in Huntington.

Utah turned over its regulating authority to the federal government in 1977.

"Tell your constituents not to be scared, that we're just trying to make sure our brothers and sisters (in the mines) go home each night in the same conditions they left," said Dennis O'Dell, a United Mine Workers of America health and safety official on the state commission. "Utah has a perfect opportunity to come up with some kind of agency to give miners better protection."

Retired miner Warren Oviatt said he is worried about the effect more regulation could have on the mining industry in Utah. "As you look at some of the laws we've got, you can see how some of them are kind of ridiculous," Oviatt said.

He said focusing on enforcement of existing laws is one way to improve safety. "We need to make sure that rules and regulations are what we can look upon as something that all individuals involved feel like they need to follow and need to obey," he said

The need for more education and training was emphasized by officials from two of Utah's largest coal companies, Canyon Fuel Co., which runs the Dugout Canyon, Skyline and SUFCO mines, and Interwest Mining Co., the Rocky Mountain Power subsidiary that operates the Deer Creek mine.

Carl Pollastro, Interwest's director of technical services and project development, said coal companies are struggling to replace an older generation of miners. More education and training are needed to prepare entry-level workers for the sophisticated world of modern mining and to certify experienced miners to fill key positions being vacated by retirees. Certification instructors also need better training, he said.

State Sen. Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, said the Western Energy Training Center at the College of Eastern Utah in Price could provide the necessary training.

Bruce Wilson of the Emery County Public Lands Council asked the commission, "please don't impose further regulations for the sake of doing something."

Elam Jones, a Crandall Canyon miner, asked the commission to talk to miners. "You need to talk to people who experienced it and didn't just hear about it," he said.

On Aug. 6, a powerful mine collapse trapped six men inside the central Utah's Crandall Canyon mine. Ten days later, three rescuers were killed in a second cave-in. The bodies of the six miners trapped in the initial collapse were never found and the search for them ended Aug. 31.

Dmitrich said that many miners won't talk while the Mine Safety and Health Administration conducts its investigation at Crandall Canyon mine.

On Wednesday, the acting solicitor for the Department of Labor rejected a request by the Utah Mine Safety Commission to participate in MSHA's investigation. Jonathan Snare wrote in a letter to commission Chairman Scott Matheson Jr. that giving the commission access could "compromise the integrity of the investigation and potentially jeopardize MSHA's ability to enforce the law," noting that the commission includes a representative of a trade association that represents a a co-owner of the mine.

Snare writes that when the investigation is finished, the results and transcripts of nonconfidential witness interviews will be made public. He also said that the Department of Labor will provide all relevant information to the commission as soon as reasonably possible.

"Proceed with caution," advised Joe Fielder, an official with UtahAmerican Energy Inc., the operator of Crandall Canyon. "Our nation and state depend on coal."

But Lee Cratsenburg, sister of Dale Black, one of the rescuers who died in the second cave-in, pleaded with the commission to make sure regulations are followed. "There were things that should've been taken care of at Crandall Canyon before this (disaster) ever happened," she said.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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