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Summary

The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 would require operators of underground coal mines to improve accident preparedness. The legislation would require mining companies to develop an emergency response plan specific to each mine they operate, and require that every mine have at least two rescue teams located within one hour. S. 2803 would also limit the legal liability of rescue team members and the companies that employ them. The act would increase both civil and criminal penalties for violations of federal mining safety standards and would give the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) the ability to temporarily close a mine that fails to pay the penalties or fines. In addition, the act calls for several studies into ways to enhance mine safety, as well as the establishment of a new office within the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health devoted to improving mine safety. Finally, the legislation would establish new scholarship and grant programs devoted to training individuals with respect to mine safety.

Key Provisions

Key provisions of the MINER Act will:

  • Require each covered mine to develop and continuously update a written emergency response plan;


  • Promote use of equipment and technology that is currently commercially available;


  • Require each mine's emergency response plan to be continuously reviewed, updated and re-certified by MSHA every six months;


  • Direct the Secretary of Labor to require wireless two-way communications and an electronic tracking system within three years, permitting those on the surface to locate persons trapped underground;


  • Require each mine to make available two experienced rescue teams capable of a one hour response time;


  • Require mine operators to make notification of all incidents/accidents which pose a reasonable risk of death within 15 minutes, and sets a civil penalty of $5,000 to $60,000 for mine operators who fail to do so;


  • Establish a competitive grant program for new mine safety technology to be administered by NIOSH;


  • Establish an interagency working group to provide a formal means of sharing non-classified technology that would have applicability to mine safety;


  • Raising the criminal penalty cap to $250,000 for first offenses and $500,000 for second offenses, as well as establishing a maximum civil penalty of $220,000 for flagrant violations;


  • Give MSHA the power to request an injunction (shutting down a mine) in cases where the mine has refused to pay a final order MSHA penalty;


  • Create a scholarship program available to miners and those who wish to become miners and MSHA enforcement staff to head off an anticipated shortage in trained and experienced miners and MSHA enforcement;


  • Establish the Brookwood-Sago Mine Safety Grants program to provide training grants to better identify, avoid and prevent unsafe working conditions in and around the mines. These grants will be made on an annual, competitive basis to provide education and training for employers and miners, with a special emphasis on smaller mines.