by Senator Mike Dmitrich
Senate Minority Leader
The month of August in Utah’s coal country has been disconcerting. On August 6, 2007, a collapse occurred at the Crandall Canyon mine near Huntington, Utah. Six miners are trapped. During the underground rescue attempt, another collapse occurred on August 16 killing three rescue workers and injuring six others. (Underground rescue efforts have now been suspended.) Six boreholes have been drilled near the area where the miners were working August 6, but no signs of life have been detected. A seventh hole is now being drilled, and a robotic camera will be lowered into an earlier hole to search for signs of life.
The past three weeks have been grueling for the residents of Carbon and Emery counties. I have personally met with many of the residents, Governor Huntsman, Robert Murray, co-owner of the Crandall Canyon mine, Richard Stickler, assistant secretary of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, and many other key personnel. Sincere efforts have been made to rescue the trapped miners, but to no avail.
At this time of angst, I would like to express my concern for the trapped miners and their families. They have experienced emotions that none of us can fathom, and I certainly hope for a positive outcome. Also at this time of tragedy, I would like to extend my condolences to the families of the three rescuers who perished and my appreciation to the six rescuers and their families who were injured in their courageous attempt to locate the trapped miners. I hope those who were injured will soon return to good health.
The severity of this tragedy has prompted four congressional investigations, and a fifth may materialize. Governor Huntsman has appointed a Utah Mine Safety Commission chaired by Scott Matheson, former dean of the University of Utah Law School and United States Attorney. The governor has asked me to serve on the Commission, along with former U.S. Senator Jake Garn, Huntington’s Mayor Hilary Gordon, Price’s Mayor Joe Piccolo, Representative Kay McIff, Dennis O’Dell, Safety and Health Director of the United Mine Workers of America, and David Litvin of the Utah Mining Association. Governor Huntsman states, “A significant part of this review will be an assessment of the role of state and local government relative to the federal government and private industry in ensuring mine safety. My objective is to promote mine safety, without partisanship and without oppressive regulation of free enterprise.
Coal mining provides a livelihood for many miners and their families in my Senate district. It should be noted that other coal mines in eastern Utah continue to operate safely. The safety record of Utah’s coal mines has been good until the Crandall incident. I hope this incident demands increased emphasis on safety for our miners. Coal production is a vital component of Utah’s economy. The Utah coal mining industry employs nearly 2,000 people. In 2006, 25.5 million short tons of coal were mined at a value of over $570 million. Coal provides more than 50 percent of our nation’s electrical generation, validating the immediate requirement for high levels of safety for miners.
In the past century, great strides have been made in mine safety. Unfortunately, our progress can be diminished when accidents occur resulting in death and/or injury. J. Brett Harvey, president and CEO of CONSOL Energy Inc., delivered the keynote address at last week’s Utah Mining Association convention, and referring to his operation, he stated succinctly, “…safety trumps everything else we do. It trumps production, it trumps profits, it trumps all other rules, policies, and procedures. (CONSOL operates 20 mining sites, including the small underground Emery Mine in Utah.)
I look forward to working with the governor on the Utah Mine Safety Commission and also offer my services to other investigative entities to accomplish our safety ambitions.