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Kentucky House committee discusses bill that would lower number of emergency staff required for smaller coal mining shifts


A bill was discussed Thursday in the state House of Representatives’ Committee on Natural Resources and Energy that would lessen the number of emergency staff on site at smaller mines.

House Bill 85 would set the minimum number of working mine emergency technicians (METs) or medical staff to one per shift, if ten or less miners are working.

State law currently requires at least two emergency technicians on hand, no matter how many workers are on shift.

John Blanton, a Republican from the 92nd District, is the bill’s co-sponsor. He said during the meeting that it reflects a downturn of the coal industry and less available technicians.

“We don’t have the number of technicians that we once had,” Blanton said. “And so it makes it difficult for a small mining operation that has 10, 12 people. If they've got two technicians and one of them takes off, for whatever reason, sickness, personal reasons or something else, then the mine has to shut down because they can't operate and stay within the law.”

But opponents say the bill rolls back necessary protections for coal miners. Kentucky Resources Council staff attorney and lobbyist Audrey Ernstberger says the bill would lessen safety requirements that were made law after the accidental death of miner Bud Morris in 2005. 

State investigators found he did not receive immediate medical assistance after he was hit by an underground coal car.

“For whatever reason, if an MET is injured, or can’t perform their duties, or one of the workers is injured in a separate location and there’s no preventable pathway for aid, that at least having two on staff makes it less likely that someone’s gonna get injured,” Ernstberger said.

No vote was taken, and a committee substitute for the bill is expected to be filed. It will continue to be discussed and finalized in Committee.

Shepherd joined WEKU in June 2023 as a staff reporter. He most recently worked for West Virginia Public Broadcasting as General Assignment Reporter. In that role, he collected interviews and captured photos in the northern region of West Virginia. Shepherd holds a master’s degree in Digital Marketing Communication and a bachelor’s in music from West Virginia University.
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