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SPRINGFIELD - U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin called for stricter mine safety standards and more federal inspectors.

The Springfield Democrat's announcement came Monday after he visited the Viper Mine in Williamsville. The facility is run by International Coal Group, which also operated the Sago Mine in West Virginia where 12 men died earlier this year.

"These men and women count on us at the federal level to have good safety inspections," he said. "So if anything goes wrong, we can stop it before it happens."

Durbin said he also was concerned that the Mine Safety and Health Administration needs 130 more inspectors, which isn't covered in the proposed federal budget.

The Democrat supports two proposals making their way through Congress.

One measure would provide tax credits to coal producers to upgrade safety equipment.

The credit would be equal to 50 percent of the cost of the new safety gear.

The other initiative would create tougher penalties for mines with habitual safety problems.

Joe Angleton, state director of mines and minerals, said similar legislation may be debated this week when the Illinois General Assembly reconvenes.

The proposals would require Illinois coal producers to adopt new technology for locating buried miners and improving state rescue teams.

Durbin on Medicare

Durbin also stopped in Lincoln to promote legislation that make it easier to opt out of the new Medicare drug plan if there are any changes.

"The program is entirely too complicated. It's unpredictable as to what it is going to cost," he said. "Frankly, there are big gaps in coverage; we could have done better."

Currently, people are locked into the plan they choose for a year.

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