Call to Order and Roll Call
The7th meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Environment was held on Thursday, December 1, 2011, at 1:00 PM, in Room 149 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Brandon Smith, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Brandon Smith, Co-Chair; Senators Joe Bowen, Ray S. Jones II, Bob Leeper, Katie Kratz Stine, Robert Stivers II, and Johnny Ray Turner; Representatives Hubert Collins, Tim Couch, Keith Hall, Stan Lee, Reginald Meeks, Tim Moore, Marie Rader, John Short, Kevin Sinnette, Fitz Steele, and Jim Stewart III.
Guests: Drs. Rick Honaker, Andrew Walla, Braden Lusk, Tom Novak, and Kyle Perry, University of Kentucky Mining Engineering Research; Mr. Johnny Greene, Office of Mine Safety and Licensing; and Ms. Nina Cornett.
A quorum being present Chairman Smith requested approval of the November meeting minutes. After a motion made by Representative Collins and a second by Representative Meeks, the minutes were approved.
Presentation from the University of Kentucky Mining Engineering Research Program
Dr. Rick Honaker gave an overview of the program’s scholarship and research. Dr. Honaker noted that a 2002 study recommended the nation’s mining industry needed 300 new mine engineering students, but at that time there were only 75 students. In response to that national need, the Kentucky General Assembly provided $1.3 million in scholarship money to the University of Kentucky’s mine engineering program between 2008 and 2012. The mine engineering program also has received additional private funds from major coal and mineral companies. The total amount of scholarship money available in 2012 will be approximately $2.3 million consisting of both public and private dollars.
Dr. Honaker described the recruiting process and the test scores required for admittance into the mine engineering program. The mine engineering program receives approximately 180 applications, but the incoming class is only 60 students on average. Graduate placement is 100 percent with full time salaries beginning at $65,000. There are summer internships available with pay starting at $18 to $28 per hour. The University of Kentucky is the fastest growing and largest mine engineering program in the nation. Students come from all regions of Kentucky, from other states, and from other countries. Dr. Honaker described student ACT scores and briefly profiled the incoming program academically. A student stays in the program 4.5 years in order to graduate and must complete the 50 credit hour mine engineering schedule of classes.
In response to a question regarding the number of freshmen and sophomore students in the program, Dr. Honaker replied that oftentimes freshmen to not earn enough credits to graduate to sophomore status, and some students drop out of the program altogether.
In response to a question about the where prospective employers are located, Dr. Honaker replied that the companies employing mine engineering students are located in Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Northern and Central Appalachia, Tennessee, Illinois, Virginia, Utah, Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Also, Dr. Honaker noted that there are mining engineering programs at Virginia Tech, Penn State, Montana Tech, the Colorado School of Mining, and the University of Alaska.
In response to a question about the amount of money raised by the Friends of Coal license plate, Dr. Honaker replied that the program has received $75, 000 to date.
Dr. Honaker and Dr. Andrew Walla described the Appalachian Research Initiatives for Environmental Science (ARIES). ARIES is a research study that examines different spray patterns and treatments to reduce ambient dust in mines. Dr. Walla identified the students involved with the study and the funding support from the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Walla concluded that the study findings are important for improving safety conditions in underground mines.
In response to an inquiry about whether the ventilation in mines is improving, Dr. Walla responded that ventilation is not perceived as being very important. Industry does not recognize how significant the topic of ventilation is today. There is a need for a certified ventilation expert in each mine.
In response to a question about whether the research examined different spray tips, spray patterns, and surfactants, Dr. Walla responded no. The research being conducted now is in the beginning stages, but those particulars will be examined at a later date.
Dr. Braden Lusk described historical coal mine production trends. Coal production has been decreasing for several years, and there is a need to increase production. Advanced mining research is driven by industry stakeholders, but improvements in this industry affect the state and the nation. Advanced mine research would support mine emergency and mine technology as well as supplement federal health and safety research.
Dr. Lusk responded to a question about the location of companies that are working to support productivity improvements by stating that coal companies are not tied to Kentucky or Appalachia. However, the Kentucky Coal Association is active in Kentucky. Most groups are focused on health and safety.
Report on mine safety by the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing
Mr. Johnny Greene, Executive Director of the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing (OMSL), provided statistics on Kentucky’s mining industry and Kentucky’s accident and safety record. Kentucky has approximately 19,000 coal miners. At the end of November, there were 454 licensed coal mining operations in Kentucky. Kentucky has the most mines of any state in the country. There are 267 surface mining operations and 187 underground mining operations. Mr. Greene explained that underground mines require four regular inspections and two electrical inspections each year. Surface mining operations receive two regular inspections annually. There are twelve mine rescue teams in the state. The Office of Mine Safety and Licensing (OMSL) have 174 employees, and 154 of those employees work in district offices across the state.
Mr. Greene expressed disappointment that there have been eight fatalities in the Kentucky in 2011. Accidents happen for two reasons: unsafe conditions and unsafe acts. Mr. Greene gave a complete description of each fatal accident, and identified specific changes that would prevent like or similar accidents in the future. Mr. Greene explained OMSL is working on draft legislation that will require proximity detectors on continuous miners which will help workers know when they are entering an unsafe or hazardous area which is commonly referred to as a “red zone.” Currently, safety analysts are discussing the importance of red zones with the mining companies. Operators should not be in any designated red zone, and the company’s failure to comply with orders to restrict activity in the red zone can result in harsh disciplinary measures. Other preventative measures include discussions to install harnesses in dozers which would provide greater safety in rollover accidents.
In response to a question regarding mine rescue training, Mr. Greene responded that there are twelve state teams trained by the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing. The most important training issue is developing a good command center. In an accident, the command center has to provide guidance to a number of first responders and the safety team itself.
Mr. Green clarified to members that Kentucky’s mine rescue teams have never competed nationally; although, Kentucky’s mine rescuers do participate in competitions as judges. Also clarified that while the mine rescue teams are always on alert and will respond to requests for assistance outside of the state, Kentucky’s mine rescue teams have never been called to respond to an outside emergency.
Ms. Nina Cornett addressed the problem of timber theft in Kentucky. There are valuable hardwoods in Kentucky that landowners are unable to easily monitor. The Department of Forestry is aware of the problem, but the department is powerless to enforce theft and only able to enforce water quality rules. Logging violations are not prosecuted or investigated in Kentucky. Rather logging violations are treated as civil claims. Ms. Cornett stated that if a landowner who is the victim of timber theft he or she is required to pay for a land survey and to hire a professional forester to determine the size of the loss.
Senator Stivers stated that if an individual can show a trespass and identify the property boundaries of the property then there is a basis for a lawsuit. However there are many situations of multiple heirs and improper boundaries. In those timber theft cases where there is a diminution of property and loss of timber, the victim can recover with treble damages, and most attorneys will take the case on a contingency basis.
Ms. Cornett responded that treble damages will only be on what is called “stump value.” That is the value of the timber brought to the mill. The stump value is substantially lower than what the timber might sell for at another time. Treble damages on a low stump value are not adequate compensation.
Representative Collins noted that absentee landowners have been forced into tough circumstances with the theft of timber and copper.
Ms. Cornett proposed that the Department of Forestry be allowed to investigate timber theft. In response to a question about her qualification, Ms. Cornett responded that she is a member of the Woodland Owner’s Association and has educated herself on the issue of timber theft. Ms. Cornett also stated that she is retired from the Department of Defense.
There being no further business the meeting was adjourned at 3:00 pm.