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Mining Disaster April 13, 2010

Posted by Dwight and Lynn Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.
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The mining disaster last week that killed 29 workers is the worst U.S. mining disaster in 20 years.

As widely reported, the mine, near Charleston, WV has a history of safety violations, including 57 infractions just last month for (among other things) not properly ventilating the highly combustible methane, which allegedly caused this accident. Via the Washington Post

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has ordered the evacuation of miners from parts of the Upper Big Branch coal mine 64 times since the beginning of 2009 because of safety violations, but federal regulators said the mine did not show the “pattern of violation” that would have allowed them to take harsher measures.

The orders to withdraw miners from the site, where at least 25 workers died in an explosion this week, included one for “imminent danger” because miners had to wade through 48 inches of water in one section, records show.  […]

Last night, MSHA said that in the past year, the Upper Big Branch mine exceeded national averages in eleven citation categories and that for the most serious type of safety violation the mine had more than 11 times the national rate.

There were also problems with the mine’s four-mile-long ventilation system. Even though it won the approval of federal regulators last October, it was shown in a test in March to be circulating less than half the volume of air intended to keep levels of combustible coal dust and methane within a safe range.

Massey Mines has had problems with miner safety in the past.

In 2006 another Massey mine, Aracoma Alma No. 1, was recommended for shutdown by a government inspector, who was over-ruled. The subsequent fatal fire killed two miners and led to a guilty plea for 10 criminal mine safety violations, a $2.5 million fine. Massey also paid the federal government $20 million to settle charges of violating water pollution controls in 2008.

J. Davitt McAteer, the former MSHA Administrator, called the Massey conglomerate “certainly one of the worst in the industry” from a safety standpoint. CEO Blankenship, of course, denies McAteer’s and other workers and inspectors’ assessments. “Violations are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process. There are violations at every coal mine in America.”

This utter disregard for mine safety is not surprising. The CEO of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, is a real piece of work.

He donates huge amounts to conservative causes, has funded a good chunk of the Tea Party movement in West Virginia, famously spent over $3 million to get a friendly judge elected to the state Supreme Court, and  donated another $3 million in an attempt to fund a Republican takeover of the state legislature. Blankenship regularly engages in calling Democratic leaders “the crazies” and has said that any move to regulate pollution is the first step toward communism. Grist named Blankenship the “scariest polluter” in the country.

Although Massey appears to be directly responsible for the safety conditions of his mine, the government agency regulating mine safety is apparently without real enforcement powers and is largely ineffective. Because of influential people like Blankenship, the regulatory agencies are designed to be ineffective.

As Devilstower writes:

We will hear through the next weeks what we always hear in a situation like this. We’ll hear that the people of the Appalachians are hard-working people, tough people, people who take pride in their willingness to sacrifice to put food on the table for their families. And all that’s true.

It’s true, but all that doesn’t matter one damn bit. There is no honor in dying to save a company money. Nothing admirable in keeping a stiff upper lip so others can line their pockets. Anyone who trots out the idea that there’s something noble in allowing people to be abused, is part of that abuse. Painting a history of poverty, desperation and death as tradition is indulging in a romantic perversion. It’s poverty, desperation, and death. The right thing to do is fix it, not write another blasted song about it.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

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