The proposal passed 25-11 before the group, which is Republican-controlled.

Bill sponsor Sen. Chris Girdler said the cost-saving bill will end duplication of efforts between state and federal inspectors and will make the two groups complementary to one another by converting 62 state inspectors to “safety analysts” tasked with correcting subpar practices through “behavior modification” rather than issuing citations.

“I’m for the free markets along with rational oversight deciding what is most efficient, not the government picking winners and losers,” Girdler said. “That is exactly what we have seen occur over the last eight years — burdensome regulations, gotcha games and an administration that makes no bones about wanting to put the coal industry out of business. I call it strangulation by regulation.”

To date, more than 10,000 coal mining jobs have been cut in Kentucky, or 56% of direct employment. Production in the state now hovers around its lowest since the mid-1950s, and the legislator said eastern Kentucky just mined its lowest level since 1932.

Currently, all underground Kentucky coal operations are evaluated at least six times annually, and all others are examined at least two a year.

Sen. Stephen West, a supporter of the bill, noted that Kentucky has just 130 remaining mines after 318 operational closures over 18 months. The remaining active complexes just were not enough to justify 62 state inspectors, he added.

“[T]he war on coal has been tremendously successful,” he said. “At one time, we had thousands of mines in this state.”

SB 297 now goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration.