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Published:November 1st, 2006 04:03 EST
2006 Mining Deaths Warrant Progressive Action

2006 Mining Deaths Warrant Progressive Action

By Michael Costello

Monday’s incident has become all too familiar across the coalfields of West Virginia.  

One miner dead, another injured. 

2006 has been a grim year for the state’s coal industry.  22 on-the-job coal deaths have occurred in West Virginia, the most since 1981, when 47 miners lost their lives.

At a time when such events should open the eyes of industry executives and lawmakers, the fight to reduce regulations and give preference to industry continues. 

Since the Bush administration took office, 17 vital safety measures have been eliminated from the Mine Safety and Health Administration, despite opposition from miners and Union officials.  

In a state where coal reigns as King, mining regulations have always been frowned upon by industry, no matter what the social consequences.  The situation remains today, with Election Day in less than one week.  Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has poured millions of his own dollars into an effort to install a Republican majority in the currently Democratic state legislature.

Blankenship has hidden his motives under a swarm of advertisements boasting of Republicans and their credentials, asking voters to consider the candidates “for the sake of the kids.”  Issues such as repeal of the state’s five percent food tax and parental notice for abortions highlight his chosen candidates, but a glimpse into Blankenship’s past comments regarding mine safety open the windows on the reasons why an out-of-state industry executive would want to see an anti-regulation government take over in West Virginia. 

"As far as avoiding accidents, the industry avoids thousands of accidents every year," Blankenship said in February. "Most often, the problem is not the safety rules; it's the day to day (activities of mine workers). Anything you do every day, you sort of take it for granted."

These comments came shortly after a series of mine disasters in early 2006 including the infamous Sago Mine disaster, and an incident at a Massey subsidiary, which killed two miners.

Between 2000 and 2005, the state Department of Environmental Protection issued Massey operations 4,628 citations, thousands more than the other major companies operating in West Virginia. 

As this year’s fatalities continue to pile up, Blankenship’s political behavior and Massey’s safety record is unacceptable.  This is not 1981. We should be progressive in enacting legislation to protect miners, not revert to the days of minimal government oversight when the lives of human beings are at stake.