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College may end mining program

By John Serfustini
Sun Advocate Associate Editor and C.J. McManus
Sun Advocate reporter

The loss of an important federal grant is forcing USU Eastern to consider shutting down its mining department.

"It's possible," Chancellor Joe Peterson confirmed Monday. While the decision is not yet final, "we are dealing with very limited options," he noted.

The options are simply how to make up for the cutback and then elimination of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration's State Training Grant. This was money that funded miner training at one college in each of the 50 states, and was not limited to coal mining.

The money comes from the federal government to the state, and then from the Utah Labor Commission to the college.

Dale Evans, the director of the USU Eastern Program, said that the college trains between 1,200 and 1,300 people per year, and has trained 5,760 since 2008.

All miners must complete federally-approved coursework as a condition for employment and then must take annual refresher courses, Evans explained. Over the years, the College of Eastern Utah and then USU Eastern have worked with MSHA to create training that met all federal specifications, Evans added. The federal oversight meant that those who took the courses at USU Eastern would be qualified to seek work anywhere in the country.

In announcing the latest round of mandated cutbacks last March, Joseph A. Main, Assistant Secretary of Labor for MSHA, notified Utah State University's contracts administrator that, "Because of the size of the cuts required by sequestration, we have implemented a series of measures to reduce costs throughout the Agency, as MSHA realigns its available resources to conduct its core mandatory activities. These measures include reduced training and outreach activities, as well as cuts to travel and overtime, which will also impact some enforcement activities."

Main stated that the university's FY 2013 grant would be a little less than $61,000. Before the sequestrations, it had been about $170,000. The total cost of the courses instruction was $230,000.

In October 2012, anticipating first round of reductions, Chancellor Peterson wrote a letter to organizations and individuals that would be concerned with the reductions. In the letter, Peterson asked them for recommendations in ranking priorities and for ideas about restructuring the department to handle the cutbacks.

On Monday, Peterson reiterated earlier request. He stated, "I want to emphasize that the college still extends an invitation to give advice, share insights, and offer possible solutions."

While Peterson and USU have only begun to discuss the issue publicly, the Utah Labor Commission as well as other state officials have been negotiating the program's future all year.

The commission had the grant reduction on its agenda in September and the Sun Advocate will provide additional details as they become available.

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