Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Mine Safety: Bush's Failed Nominations and Changing The Political Calculus

The Louisville Courier Journal is just about fed up with the Bush administration. "You'd think," the Journal write, that after 37 coal miners deaths this year, the Bush administration would try to "nominate the best possible candidate for assistant secretary of Labor handling mine safety and health."

Think again.
Instead, the White House insists on promoting Richard Stickler, whose record in both industry and government, while not automatically disqualifying, certainly will not give miners and their families confidence that the administration has their best interests at heart.

The same can be said for the nomination of John Correll to head the U.S. Office of Surface Mining. The Sierra Club warns that installing what they see as an industry friend (he was a honcho with Amax Mining and Peabody Mining, both of which have had operations in Kentucky) would crush any hope for better oversight of this most environmentally destructive form of coal extraction.
Bush didn't even get the hing after the Senate sent both nominations back to the White House. He just renominated them both again.

And then we have the Kentucky Coal Association (KCA) which is addressing the ongoing mine disasters with, what else? -- a public relations campaign.
In May the KCA board of directors, in a historic vote, cited mine deaths and mountaintop removal when it ordered up a public relations campaign to improve the industry's public persona -- a $2.5 million PR campaign run by Meridian Communications.
One mine company, at least, seems to be getting serious:
Even the egregious Massey Energy, which has appeared ever more irresponsible and callous in the operation of its 31 underground mines and 16 surface mines in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, is making an effort to look less like some 19th Century industrial throwback.

Massey announced last week that it would go beyond the requirements of federal law, in order to improve fire suppression, install better safety technology and adopt better preparation for mine evacuation. CEO Don Blankenship, who is viewed by industry opponents as a living version of the Coal Baron caricature, is out there making the case for Massey's record in mine safety.

He could have been content to argue, as he did, that "until this year, Massey Energy had not had a serious mine fire or mine explosion during my 24 years with the company."

Instead, in the aftermath of two deaths in an incident at one of its Aracoma Coal Co. mines, Massey will install belt line sprinklers, modify escape training and equip rescue teams with thermal imaging systems. All of which is more meaningful than $2.5 million worth of sloganeering and public-education-through-TV-commercial.
And finally, as we never stop emphasizing here at Confined Space, don't forget the relationship between politics and death on the job:
The President calculates that, having twice scared coalfield voters into supporting him with pledges to protect scarce mining jobs against the threats of responsible regulators, those voters will stick with him, and with his party, no matter who he puts in charge of mine safety and strip mine enforcement.

Clearly, the Republicans in the Kentucky congressional delegation believe that, too. So, obviously, does Kentucky's Elaine Chao, who runs the Labor Department. They're with the President as he stubbornly continues to put industry types in charges of regulating the industry.

How many deaths and injuries will it take to change the basic political calculus of federal oversight? How many decapitated mountains and dead streams?