I saw this just now. We need to keep alive the memories of those miners who died because of greed and avarice.
On the NYTimes website just now:
In the first comprehensive state report on the 2010 coal mine disaster in West Virginia, an independent team of investigators put the blame squarely on the owner of the mine, Massey Energy, concluding that it had “made life difficult” for miners who tried to address safety and built “a culture in which wrongdoing became acceptable.” [emphasis added]
But it was more pointed in naming Massey as the culprit, using blunt language to describe what it said was a pattern of negligence that ultimately led to the deaths of 29 miners on April 5, 2010, in what was the worst American mining disaster in 40 years.
“The story of Upper Big Branch is a cautionary tale of hubris,” the report concluded. “A company that was a towering presence in the Appalachian coalfields operated its mines in a profoundly reckless manner, and 29 coal miners paid with their lives for the corporate risk-taking.” [emphasis added]
None of this is really surprising. Massey has been an outlaw company for a long time, as a hearing by Rep. George Miller told us:
In the year prior to the April 2010 explosion, Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine was cited 515 times and ordered to shut down operations on 52 separate occasions – an average of once per week. However, shortcomings in the law have allowed some mine operators to game the system to avoid tougher scrutiny, such as the ‘pattern of violations’ sanction. Others game the system by interfering with federal mine safety inspectors by providing unlawful advance notice before inspectors go underground.
For years, Massey's CEO Don Blankenship, a right-wing Republican, who led a one-man campaign to defeat unions in the coal industry. You can read about this here, which makes it clear that Blankenship had no regard for peoples' lives and there was a track record of criminal neglect:
“If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers, or anyone else to do anything other than run coal (i.e. build overcasts, do construction jobs, or whatever) you need to ignore them and run coal,” Don wrote in a now infamous memo in 2005. Shortly after, when a deadly fire broke out at another Massey mine, Aracoma, killing two men, that memo helped federal prosecutors and the Mine Safety and Health Administration determine that Massey had violated mandatory safety standards. In 2008, Aracoma pleaded guilty to 10 criminal charges.
Now, as federal investigators sift through the debris at Upper Big Branch, and study the more than 500 violations and $897,325 in fines incurred by the operation in 2009—many of which Massey has appealed—I hope they keep one question uppermost in mind. Did Appalachia’s most notorious coal baron sign off himself on the decision to not worry about coal-dust build-ups and ventilation problems with deadly methane—the very same issues that caused the fire at Aracoma?
Moreover, Massey, and other mining companies, do everything possible to avoid cleaning up their act by filing appeal after appeal to violations levied on the mines by government inspectors. Those appeals have a real-world consequences--people die:
“The existing system rewards mine operators that file contests,” said Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America. “Having delay in the resolution of alleged violations diminishes MSHA’s ability to use the full panoply of its enforcement tools. You must also recognize that many of these violations are quite serious - the kind of violations that have contributed to mine fires, explosions and the deaths of coal miners.”
Coal mining is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. Even if you aren't killed in a mine, the chances you will die young from black lung disease are pretty high. Miller has been at the forefront of a push to pass new legislation, called the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act.
Similar to the Wall Street culpability, I have argued for a long time that we only change this when we start putting executives in jail for long periods of time. People who cause workers to be injured, die or lose their livelihoods need to have their liberty taken away.
It is not enough to just fine them. People like Blankenship need to do hard time.
UPDATE: George Miller, who I think is one of the most dogged defenders of workers in Congress, is just out with this statement:
“The events leading up to the Upper Big Branch tragedy, described by the West Virginia independent investigation panel, are chilling. The conditions could have easily come from a different era where fear and intimidation were used to produce coal at any cost. Unfortunately, 29 miners and their families paid the highest price for a company that chose to operate outside the margins of safety.
“The need for Congress to act has been clear for some time. We already knew about widespread failures by Massey management and their disregard for safety. This committee explored the industry-wide practice of gaming the system to escape tougher scrutiny. And, despite laws to protect them, we heard directly from miners and their families about the fear and intimidation they faced when they spoke up about safety problems.
“It’s time to close these loopholes and hold mine owners accountable who operate in a reckless disregard of human life. While Congress continues to be gridlocked by a pay-to-play political system, miners are put in grave danger by allowing the next Upper Big Branch to happen. Voluntary safety programs and self-policing, as the industry is advocating, is not the solution and will only put our nation’s mines back to the dark ages. There is no reason why we cannot act with a sense of urgency on these reasonable and responsible recommendations.”
UPDATE # 2: From United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts--
"While we are still reviewing the full report on the Upper BigUpdated by Tasini at Thu May 19, 2011 at 03:20 PM EDT
Branch disaster issued by the West Virginia Governor's Independent
Investigation Panel, headed by J. Davitt McAteer, I could not help but be
struck by several conclusions reached by the panel.
"First, mine management failed to carry out even the most basic
functions required of it to keep the mine safe. Proper ventilation was
nonexistent, fireboss runs were not made, essential gas detection equipment
was not turned on, water sprays on equipment were not properly maintained,
coal dust was allowed to accumulate on the floor and the ribs of the mine
and required rock dusting to hold down potential explosions was not done.
"These are all things any company that cared about its workers'
safety would not allow to happen. But because of the safety-last culture
that has developed at Massey, there was no emphasis on maintaining the mine
within even the most basic of safety parameters.
"Secondly, the report details how the culture of intimidation and
repression of workers and their voices at work, always so prevalent in a
nonunion workplace, was taken to an even greater level at Massey. In the
wake of this report, I don't know how anyone can argue against not just
protecting basic rights at work for coal miners but expanding them.
"We in the UMWA hear about these types of conditions all the time
from former and current Massey miners. Indeed, one of them testified about
the repressive Massey culture before a Senate committee last year. It is
somewhat surprising, though heartening, to see a discussion of it in this
report. Listening to workers' voices on the job is always important to
safety. Punishing workers for speaking up about safety at Upper Big Branch
"Finally, the report includes troubling findings regarding oversight
activities, or lack thereof, by individuals working for the federal and
state agencies charged with performing those duties. We will be looking more
closely at those issues, as well as all the other issues we have uncovered,
as part of our own investigation into this tragedy in our role as miners'
Per leu2500, lots of good detail on the whole saga here: