Monday, January 23, 2006

The Terrible Bush Administration Record On Coal Mine Safety

After a coal mine accident in Pennsylvania in 2002, and after the twin fatal accidents in West Virginia this month, there is a public relations rush by the Bush Administration to appear to be strong on coal mine safety. However the Bush Administration record on coal mine safety has been terrible.

Not only was former coal industry lobbyist attorney John Roberts placed on the Supreme Court to help to weaken coal mining industry rules when any cases regarding the coal industry come before the high court, but Bush also appointed Stanley Suboleski, an executive of Massey Energy, and numerous other coal industry executives to be in charge of mine safety rules through the Federal Mine Safety and Review Committee.

The first appointment of a mining safety official by the Bush Administration was David Lauriski, a longtime executive in the mining industry. Other mining industry executives appointed by the Bush Administration to help to weaken the safety of miners include John Caylor, who was an executive at Cyprus Minerals, Amax Mining and Magma Copper Company. John Correll was an executive at Amax Mining and Peabody Coal Company. Mark Ellis was an attorney that represented the American Mining Congress, the coal industry business association that fights new safety legislation through lawsuits and lobby actions. The Bush Administration even appointed Melinda Pons, an executive at BHP Minerals-Utah to be Chief Of Health For Coal. In every possible case, an executive who helped to fight coal mining safety rules or new regulations was appointed by the Bush Administration to help to weaken the safety rules for the industry. Mine worker or union members who had first hand knowledge were routinely ignored for appointment to the MSHA. Instead like all other federal agencies, the Bush Administration has weakened the MSHA by appointing mining company executives to cut mining industry expenses at the safety expense of the miners. It is yet another example of how the probusiness attitude of the Bush Administration is to maximize profits for industry but to weaken worker safety, environmental and consumer concerns. It is another example of the high cost of sheer greed.

Not only has 170 positions on Mine Safety and Health Administration been cut, but there has been a $4.9 million cut in funding for this mine safety administration. Since 2001, under the Republican leadership of Congress. not a singal hearing related to mine saefty has been held, and only some hearings related to how to cut funding for OSHA and to weaken worker safety funding and enforcement in general.

Even the fine schedule was unrealistic based on the seriousness of some of the incidents at the Sago mine in West Virginia. Most of the fines only ranged from $60-$440 compared to a mine revenue of $136 million dollars and included such violations as 18 roof falls laat year. Both the Bush Administration and the Republican controlled Congress helped to take any real teeth out of mine safety enforcement, only to enhance corporate mine profits, while setting workers up to die in fatal accidents as safety deeply suffered.

Even an important safety standard for more clean air shafts was cut back by the efforts from the Bush Administration. This saves the mines money, but also directly contributed to West Virginia deaths by offering no easy source of clean air for the miners to breathe. In some accidents, a clean air shaft may worsen a fire. But in most cases it is an important form of ventilation of clean air to lessen the miners breathing bad air that coats the lungs and contributes to black lung.

Gov. Joe Manchin who lost a close relative to a mine disaster some years ago, will call for some safety changes within West Virginia today. But ultimately it is the responsibility of the Bush Administration not to appoint so many mining company company executice to weaken the safety rules that protect miners. Harry Truman used to have a motto on his desk, "the Buck Stops Here". All of these mine disasters stop at the desk of George Bush who weakened the safety standards and federal enforcement of safety regulations for miners with the MSHA appointment of executives whose history often included fighting safety regulations at the mines that they managed.

It is time for Congress to reverse the Bush Administration cuts in mine safety that may have contributed to these recent needless deaths. By 2005, for example the Sago mine safety violations increased to over 200 examples including the 18 roof falls that year. It is high time that the work safety standards for miners are inmproved. Too many needless deaths just this month alone are a bad omen for miner safety this year. No more miners should die this year so that the Bush Administration can boost the profits of coal mines. With the possibility of lawsuits from families of injured or dead coal miners, it seems that good safety standards would actually prove to be real company benefit for the bottom line. But infortunately many companies are nonunion with looser safety standards and weak federal safety standards thanks to the best efforts of the Bush Administration.


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