Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Coal: An Outlaw Industry

Louisville Courier-Journal columnist David Hawpe says the coal is an outlaw industry.

Coal industry lobbyist Kim Nelson says Hawpe wants to shut down the industry. "He thinks I should be first in line for blame when coal trains stop delivering to the power plants, the turbines quit spinning and the lights go out."

Hawpe, who has coal miners on his mother's side and coal owners on his father's says he never wanted to shut down mines. "I just wanted my dad's family to get the royalty checks without killing off my mom's."

When the Sago mine in West Virginia blew up, killing 12 men, Bruce Watzman of the National Mining Association suggested the operation's safety record wasn't all that bad. It had received 200 citations last year, almost half of them for "serious and substantial" violations. He didn't consider it "particularly out of the ordinary."

Only an outlaw industry would consider such persistent negligence unremarkable.

Need more examples?
The Charleston Gazette's Ken Ward reviewed federal records and reported, "Managers of the Sago Mine repeatedly ignored or simply missed hazardous roof conditions and dangerous buildups of combustible materials during required safety checks."

Yet mine owner Wilbur L. Ross Jr. claimed, in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, "As you know, we have an extremely good safety record. We have gotten a lot of awards."

And one more.

Consider Massey Energy, whose revenues make it the nation's fourth-largest producer. CEO Don Blankenship recently warned his deep mine superintendents, "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. This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that the coal pays the bills."

Overcasts are essential to provide fresh air in some mines.

But, then, in an outlaw industry, that wouldn't matter.