Only a few people spoke at a Utah public hearing about proposed changes being considered to improve mine rescue efforts. But their words rang loudly.
"I think it's really important that the regulations be written with flexibility because every mine is different," explained David Litvin, president of the Utah Mining Association. "The rescue expertise that you need varies from mine to mine, so flexibility in the regulations is critical." He added coal mining in the West carries a number of different challenges than mining in the East.
A seven-member panel from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) were at Salt Lake City's Little America Hotel on Tuesday to take public comment on changes to the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 (MINER Act). The proposal would revise existing standards for mine rescue teams for underground coal mines.
According to MSHA, the proposed changes would "strengthen training requirements and address composition, availability and certification requirements for coal mine rescue teams" by implementing provisions of the MINER Act to improve overall mine rescue service, rescue team effectiveness and training.
Among the issues of biggest concern are MSHA's current rule requiring one-hour emergency response times for rescue teams. While Litvin said he supports enhancing rescue efforts, he doesn't to the detriment of mine operators and the people who make up the rescue teams.
"For some operations, (a one-hour response time) is feasible, and for others it is not. (In the West) we have long distances between mine operations and oftentimes you cannot get to the mining operation within one hour," he said. "For the mines in the East that's not a problem. Mines are located closer than a hundred miles, so you can rely on another mine's rescue team to assist, if necessary."
Litvin said in order for mine operations to comply with the rules, they would have to build and supply additional rescue stations and teams at an estimated cost of $110,000-$120,000 for the equipment alone. He added that such financial outlays would preclude many smaller operations from being able to meet MSHA standards.
Kevin Tuttle, safety manager for Energy West Mining Company, said new start-up mines would also be adversely affected, noting they often lack the manpower necessary to have two of their own six-person rescue teams as required by MSHA.
"There's got to be some kind of mechanism there to provide some kind of coverage for these people," said Tuttle.
MHSA panel members seemed to heed the warning.
"We're more specifically interested in the specific examples of how the one hour requirement will affect (mining operations). How it will negatively affect them, if it will. How it will cause them not to have a mine rescue team serving their facility," said Patricia Silvey, director of the Office of Standards, Regulations and Variance at MSHA.
Silvey added MSHA will consider and evaluate the impact of the examples submitted as the final rules are drafted."There is a possibility of having some of the rules refined to accommodate some of the concerns," she said. "(However), we are constrained by the MINER Act in terms of what we can do. There's only so much we can do."