Originally published on Thu November 13, 2014 8:21 am
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Jack Blankenship was pinned facedown in the dirt, his neck, shoulder and back throbbing with pain.
He was alone on an errand, in a dark tunnel a mile underground at the Aracoma Alma coal mine in Logan County, W.Va., when a 300-pound slab of rock peeled away from the roof and slammed him to the ground. As his legs grew numb, he managed to free an arm and reach his radio. For two hours, he pressed the panic button that was supposed to bring help quickly.
As concerns rise about mine safety following an explosion in a Turkish coal mine that killed more than 200, Kentucky mine safety officials are coping with a 38 percent budget cut.
The state Office of Mine Safety and Licensing’s Dick Brown says $8.5 million in cuts will lead to eliminating some 50 positions across the state and cutting annual mine safety inspections from six to four.
The cuts also mean less safety training for miners.
“We’re going to have to be judicious in how we approach this and make sure, number one, that miners are as safe as we can possibly make them and that we can effectively keep them safe,” Brown said.
Brown expects a cut to the number of mine safety rescue teams as well. However, Madisonville’s KCTCS Mine Rescue Team receives private funding from coal companies and won’t be impacted by the budget cut.
The Office of Surface Mining has awarded Kentucky a $40 million grant to eliminate environmental hazards caused by past coal mining.
The money will go to the Kentucky Division of Abandoned Mine Lands
The grants go to 28 coal-producing states annually. They're funded by a fee on mined coal and are intended to repair unstable slopes, eliminate acid mine drainage and restore damaged water supplies.
Kentucky Natural Resources Commissioner Steve Hohmann said the grant money has been used in past years to close mine shafts and portals, put out mine fires, eliminate dangerous highwalls and subsidence and to provide drinking water to residents in mining communities.
Union-backed coal miners in Kentucky and surrounding states are protesting a coal company’s bankruptcy proceedings they say jeopardizes pension and health care benefits for some 20-thousand retirees and dependents. Miners were picketing Wednesday outside Peabody Energy’s headquarters in St. Louis.
Two charter buses bound for St. Louis left early Wednesday morning from western Kentucky to join the protest led by the United Mine Workers of Amercia.
Peabody Energy is one of the nation’s largest coal companies and one of the companies the union accuses of orchestrating business deals that bankrupted Patriot Coal.
Five Daviess County residents have filed a lawsuit over a recent decision to allow coal mining on nearly 700 acres of land. The suit targets Daviess County Fiscal Court, the Owensboro Metropolitan Planning Commission, and Western Kentucky Minerals.
Daviess County Fiscal Court will vote Thursday evening on whether it should uphold a decision to rezone nearly 700 acres for coal mining. The Owensboro Metropolitan Planning Commission narrowly approved the request in May.