Friday, August 20, 2004

Miners' Plight Condemned Far and Wide

The August 9 article in the New York Times about selling coal miner's health to the highest bidder was widely reprinted and has stimulated outrage from upstate New York to deep inside Kentucky caol country.

David Rossie, associate editor of the Binghamton, NY Press & Sun-Bulletin, notes the cynicism behind the Bush Administration's obedience to corporate interests, from putting a mine safety official in charge of MSHA, to weakening health protections for workers:
Unions and health officials have argued against the proposal but their protests have been brushed aside. In this administration, corporations weigh heavily on the scales, workers hardly at all.

The cynicism is breathtaking, figuratively and literally. In 2000, Bush campaigned through West Virginia promising to revive the state's coal industry. And voters in that state, many of them miners, delivered that traditionally Democratic stronghold and its five electoral votes -- Bush's margin of victory. Little did those miners know they were bargaining away their physical well-being.
Rossie thinks this should be a major campaign issue this year:
If I were a Kerry campaign strategist, I'd make up a million copies of that Times story, put a label on it inspired by the one found on cigarette boxes: Warning: Voting Republican can cause serious risks to your health." Then I'd hire an aircraft to drop them over the length and breadth of West Virginia's coal country.
And the Louisville Courier-Journal editorial writers also have MSHA's number:
The administration's unspoken agenda is likely political: pursuit of big contributions from the industry and of votes in swing states, such as West Virginia and Pennsylvania, where miners are misleadingly told that eased environmental rules might increase employment.

But that's a short-sighted argument. If effective regulations are applied evenly and fairly, there would be impact on the bottom line, but over the long range coal operators should be able to compete with other energy producers and to sustain employment.

Outwardly, the administration relies on the tired cheap-energy case for coal.

That, too, is deceptive. America has comparatively low-cost energy, and coal already is far less expensive than oil and natural gas.

Anyway, while the American public wants affordable energy, there is no evidence that, even in hard-pressed coal states, it wants to lay waste to the environment or to sacrifice miners' lives and health.

The administration should listen to the people more, and to the coal industry less.
One theme that these editorials and op-eds share, along with the recent Washington Post and NY Times articles on the fate of workplace and environmental regulation is that these are issues that people (VOTERS) care about -- or would care about if they knew about them. Which is where you, dear readers, come in.

Update: Editorial in the New Haven Advocate here.