Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Coal Mining Tragedy

The tragic accident in the Massey coal mine in West Virginia was sadly predictable and preventable.
The Massey Coal Mining Company has long flouted safety regulations nad gotten away with it. And now at least 25 miners are dead due to the company's negligence and indifference to human lives.

From the Washington Post:

Massey has frequently been cited for safety violations, including about 50 citations at the Upper Big Branch mine in March alone. Many of those 50 citations were for poor ventilation of dust and methane, failure to maintain proper escape ways, and the accumulation of combustible materials.

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration cited the mine for 1,342 safety violations from 2005 through Monday for a total of $1.89 million in proposed fines, according to federal records. The company has contested 422 of those violations, totaling $742,830 in proposed penalties, according to federal officials.

But the company had a litany of violations just last month at the Upper Big Branch mine, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration Web site. In March, U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration officials cited the mine, which is owned by Massey subsidiary Performance Coal Co., for failing to control dust; improperly planning to ventilate the mine of dust and the combustible gas methane; inadequate protection from roof falls; failing to maintain proper escapeways; and allowing the accumulation of combustible materials."

Why hasn't this ridiculously dangerous operation been shut down? Maybe because Massey CEO Don Blankenship's habit of throwing campaign money at mostly Republican candidates? Or maybe because of the general anti-regulation attitude that has infected Washington since the 1980's? The kind of attitude that leads to this kind of toothless enforcement of safety rules:

Mining companies are permitted to contest violations and proposed penalties and safety violations are not placed on a company's permanent safety record until a dispute is settled, officials said.

That's right. If you or I commit a crime, the judge hands sown a sentence. If a mining company violates the law, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration proposes a penalty, and the mining company gets to contest it. And then something like this happens:

From the New York Times:

A justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court and a powerful coal-company executive met in Monte Carlo in the summer of 2006, sharing several meals even as the executive’s companies were appealing a $50 million jury verdict against them to the court.

A little more than a year later, the justice, Elliott E. Maynard, voted with the majority in a 3-to-2 decision in favor of the coal companies.

That coal-company executive mentioned in this story? Don Blankenship.

Judge of the Day: Elliott Maynard

Elliott Maynard Justice Elliott E. Maynard Don Blankenship Don L Blankenship Above the Law blog.jpg
On the left: Chief Justice Elliott E. Maynard, of West Virginia, and today’s Judge of the Day. On the right: Don L. Blankenship, chief executive of Massey Energy. The setting: exotic Monaco.

Since the Federal agencies won't do their jobs enforcing the rules, I hope the miners' families sue this son of a bitch into the poorhouse.