Wednesday, January 11, 2006

 

ODNR completing only 1/2 of surface mine inspections

Maybe it's our sheer cynicism when it comes to the Ohio General Assembly, but the more we dig into the situation with Ohio's "mineral surface mines" (think aggregate/gravel mining operations and quarries) the more alarmed we are about what's going on.

First, allow a little refresher. A week ago we reported that State Senator Larry Mumper has sponsored a bill, S.B. 191, that would practically eliminate State oversight of these surface mineral mines. Mumper's bill would replace an ODNR random inspection program with a voluntary self-policing and training program. The bill would also refers to a substitution of federal mine safety requirements (which are essentially the same as the state's) but our sources tell us that the federal program does not perform inspections.

In fairness to Mumper, we should also now note that a bi-partisan companion bill to S.B. 191 has been introduced in the Ohio House of Representative sponsored by Representatives (Jim) McGregor (R-20) and co-sponsored by Aslanides (R-94), Cassell (D-63), Fende (D-62), Carano (D-59), Wolpert (R-23) and Webster (R-53).

It should be noted that the elimination of the inspection program is only part of a larger bill that also address revenue and zoning-related issues.

Digging a little bit into ODNR's Division of Mineral Resources annual reports, it turns out that state inspectors have been struggling to maintain their current surface mine inspection workload.

The 2004 report says:
Mine safety law mandates quarterly safety inspections be conducted at every surface and underground mine for coal and industrial minerals. The division’s nine surface mine inspectors and five underground mine inspectors conducted a total of 1,421 inspections throughout 2004, . . . a decrease of 4% from 2003 inspection levels.
This same documents says that although 94% of the underground mine selections were completed, only 51% of the surface mine inspections were done.

In fact, as this chart shows, the number of inspections of surface mineral mines has been dropping dramatically over the past 5 years.

Okay, so the obvious concern is whether this lack of inspections is showing up in injury statistics. Unfortunately, these statistics are more difficult to come by - but we are working on it.

But, it should be noted that the 2004 annual report noted that:
. . . a comparison of [lost-time accidents, occupational injuries and illnesses] incident rates showing that Ohio is better than the national average in all categories of mining except for underground coal and surface minerals mining operations.
Thus, it seems like a very odd response by state legislators to eliminate inspections at a time when Ohio can't even meet a national yardstick for surface mine safety.

We've mused about the bad timing for such legislation in light of the Sago mine tragedy and, in fact, a hearing about S.B. 191 scheduled for this week was cancelled. On the other hand, H.B. 400 had a sponsor hearing today before the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee, the same committee that Aslanides chairs and McGregor vice-chairs, and we hope to post more on this tomorrow.

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