Thursday, May 04, 2006

NY Times On Sago Mine Disaster

They may have ignored Workers Memorial Day, but the NY Times editorial page has this to say about the hearings current taking place on the Sago Mine disaster.
Among the open questions is why it took 11 hours to attempt a rescue. Why the equally intolerable delay in drilling an air passage to the miners? And what caused the explosion? The company's theory that it was storm lightning remains pure conjecture, particularly considering the mine's alarming history of safety citations and worker injuries. The survivor raised the question of whether a dangerous methane pocket discovered three weeks before the blast was ever properly secured.

Underlying these questions is the sorry record of company, federal and state officials responsible for miners' safety. The Bush administration has presided over the attrition of scores of critical mine regulatory jobs, plus the patronage appointments of mining industry officials to safety agencies. It's no wonder that the victims' families fear the Sago hearings will prove to be merely a means of venting the community's grief and frustration.

The disaster should be examined as thoroughly and openly as a plane crash and its lessons promulgated industrywide. For openers, regulators should immediately begin a nationwide inspection of emergency oxygen packs.

There have been 26 mining deaths this year, twice the pace of last year in a booming industry. The lone survivor's report told of the despairing men reciting a "sinner's prayer" and penning farewell notes. Do bureaucrats need to hear more before doing their jobs and protecting miners' lives?
Bureaucrats always need to hear more, but it's not really the career bureaucrats we're worried about here; it's the Bush political appointees who are making -- or not making -- the important decisions. They already "hear" plenty, but it's all from their buddies in industry where they've spent most of their lives, the industries they're supposed to be regulating. Put them under some bad top for a few weeks or threaten them with jail if miners get killed and then see if they think about doing their jobs a bit better.