Kentucky has never been accused of putting too heavy a regulatory burden on its coal industry. Whether the issue is mountain top removal or coal slurry impoundments, there is generally a lot of talk but little real action toward making the mining industry abide by operating standards common in most other industries.
This session of the General Assembly, however, is poised to take some serious steps toward making mining safer for those who go underground every day to dig coal.
This week, legislation was introduced in the House tackling the troubling issue of drug abuse among miners. Mandatory drug tests would be given before a miner is certified and administered randomly afterward. Any miner who tested positive for illegal drug use would lose his certification automatically.
The issue arose three years ago when a blasting accident at a Floyd County mine killed one miner and injured another. Marijuana was found at the scene. An autopsy revealed the dead miner had used illegal drugs.
A task force studied the drug problem over the last year and heard testimony at public hearings from owners and miners that drug abuse in the industry has become a serious problem. With the near epidemic abuse of prescription painkillers in Eastern Kentucky where most underground mines are located, clearly there is a compelling need for serious precautions.
You are in an inherently dangerous environment, and you are dependent upon your co-workers in a manner that is somewhat unique, said Rep. Robin Webb, D-Grayson when the legislation was brought forward Tuesday. We regulate the industry now at all levels. We regulate the environment. To me, human lives are worth more than that.
The bill apparently has the backing of the Fletcher administration and bi-partisan support in both the Senate and House. The Kentucky Coal Association is on board.
Mandatory drug testing along with other bills on mine safety similar to those enacted in West Virginia last month following the deaths of 11 miners at the Sago mine explosion represent serious progress toward making Kentucky underground mines safer for those who work in them.
The shame is that so many had to die first to make mines safer.