Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A Coal Miner's Biggest Hazard: "The Greed and Indifference of Mine Operators"

You need to read this devastating op-ed in the Louisville Courier Journal by Tony Oppegard, who you've seen quoted in many of the stories I've written about recent mine disasters. Tony should know. He's worked the
past 26 years as a mine safety advocate -- as a public interest lawyer, as a federal (MSHA) mining official, as Kentucky's prosecutor of mine safety violators, and now as a private attorney handling wrongful death and accident cases.
The OpEd targets Kentucky state legislators who are currently considering mine safety legislation, which the mine industry and their lobbyists are trying to kill.

Oppegard first notifies them that conditions in the mines are horrific:
Right now, as you read this, in many underground coal mines in Kentucky, miners are working without sufficient ventilation, and thus are exposed both to the danger of explosions and the horror of black lung disease. Miners are working with electrical equipment whose safety features have been "bridged out" (bypassed), and are therefore exposed to electrocution. Miners are being required to take "deep cuts" with the continuous mining machine -- in violation of the mine's roof control plan -- thus exposing the mining crew to the devastating hazards of roof falls.

Many mines are not adequately performing crucial preshift examinations for hazardous conditions, thus exposing miners going underground to unforeseen dangers. Miners performing "retreat mining" are extracting coal pillars in violation of the stringent requirements of the mine's "pillar plan." Indeed, many of those miners have not been thoroughly trained by their employer regarding the correct sequence of cutting the pillars and setting support timbers. And too many of our miners are working while impaired by drugs, sometimes with the knowledge or approval of mine foremen or operators.
And the reason: "the greed or indifference of mine operators."

Then there are the lobbyists:
Make no mistake: The handsomely paid lobbyists for the Kentucky coal industry have bitterly and callously opposed every single piece of mine safety legislation that has ever been proposed in the commonwealth, no matter how basic and necessary. That's why effective mine safety legislation has been written only after mining disasters. Most Kentucky coal miners die one at a time, and their deaths receive scant public attention. Unfortunately, however, it takes tragedies such as Scotia, Pyro or Sago -- coal mine names that are well known in our mining communities -- to focus public attention on mine safety and to spur legislative action.
And the mine owners:
The industry talks a good game; it regularly tells the media it is "committed to safety" and that it will spare no expense to protect its miners. But, in fact, that's just a public relations gimmick. Those of us who deal with Big Coal's lobbyists know that out of the spotlight, the industry fights intensely -- and almost always behind closed doors -- to kill any meaningful legislation that will protect miners' health and safety. Its greed for profits trumps safety every time.
Go read the whole thing.