[Announce] Why Mine Deaths Are Up
announce at comm-org.wisc.edu
announce at comm-org.wisc.edu
Sun Jun 4 09:11:40 CDT 2006
From: "Peter Dreier" <dreier at oxy.edu>
Two outrageous examples of Bush's misguided policies:
US soldiers in Iraq are re-enlisting in order to get health insurance
benefits for their families -- according to the LA Times!
That, alone, is a good argument for universal health insurance.
And on the home front, Bush has blood on his hands -- the blood of the 5
miners who died in a coal mine accident in Kentucky last Saturday. The
press has failed to connect the dots between the increase in mine deaths
and the Bush administration's policies of rolling back mine safety
regulations. Here's my piece from The Nation on the topic:
comment | posted May 25, 2006 (June 12, 2006 issue)
Why Mine Deaths Are Up
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The May 20 mine disaster, which killed five coal miners, occurred in
Harlan County, Kentucky--infamous for its history of conflict between
mine operators and miners. In the 1930s violent strikebusting by Harlan
County coal companies against the fledgling United Mine Workers inspired
Florence Reese's union anthem, "Which Side Are You On?"
The Bush Administration has made it clear which side it is on. Mine
workers have faced increasingly unsafe conditions because of rollbacks
of health and safety regulations, the appointment of former mining
industry executives to federal mine safety agencies and the slashing of
the budget and staff for safety inspection.
The Administration has opposed legislation supported by the United Mine
Workers and Democrats in Congress that would require stronger standards
on oxygen availability for mine emergencies, mine rescue teams,
communications and tracking devices; require immediate notification of
accidents and rapid emergency response; set mandatory minimum penalties
for egregious and repeated violations; and prohibit the use of dangerous
conveyor belts to ventilate work areas.
The cozy relationship between the Administration and the coal industry
is sweetened with campaign dollars. Since 2000 the coal mining industry
has contributed $10.7 million to federal campaigns, 88 percent to
Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
In reporting on the Harlan County toll, the mainstream media ignored the
Administration's complicity in this and other mine disasters. A number
of papers reported that the Harlan County deaths brought to thirty-one
the number of miners killed so far this year--including the twelve
killed in the Sago disaster in West Virginia in January (see Erik Reece,
"Who Killed the Miners?" February 27)--compared with twenty-two in all
of 2005. But only one major daily--the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and in
only one sentence--connected this trend to Administration actions.
The Administration's ties with the mining industry are catalogued in a
report issued in January by Democratic Representative George Miller, the
leading mine-safety advocate in Congress. According to the report, the
Administration has brought in mining industry insiders to stack the Mine
Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), which oversees the nation's
coal mines, and the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission
(FMSHRC), which settles disputes involving the Federal Mine Act.
Bush's appointees to top MSHA positions have included David Lauriski
(former executive at Energy West Mining), John Caylor (executive with
three companies, including Cyprus Minerals), John Correll (Amax Mining
and Peabody Coal), Mark Ellis (former legal counsel for the American
Mining Congress) and Melinda Pon (executive at BHP Minerals). Lauriski
was forced to resign in 2004 after CBS's 60 Minutes reported that under
his direction the agency had improperly awarded no-bid, single-source
contracts to companies with ties to him and one of his assistants.
Last September Bush nominated Richard Stickler, a former executive at a
West Virginia subsidiary of Massey Energy (which has one of the worst
safety records in the industry) to run MSHA. At a Senate confirmation
hearing in January, Stickler said he believes the nation's mine safety
laws are adequate. West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd has been keeping
the Senate from voting on the nomination.
Similarly, Bush appointed Michael Duffy, former deputy general counsel
for the National Mining Association, as FMSHRC chair and named two other
industry executives--Stanley Suboleski (an executive with Massey Energy)
and Michael Young (director of regulatory affairs for the Pennsylvania
Coal Association)--to the five-member board.
Since taking office, according to the Miller report, Bush has proposed
cuts (in real terms) in the MSHA budget each year. Between 2001 and 2005
the MSHA staff was reduced from 2,357 to 2,187, with the bulk of the
cuts occurring in coal mine safety enforcement staff. The Administration
has also dramatically reduced the number and size of fines, as well as
the number of criminal prosecutions and convictions, compared with the
Clinton era. Bush's appointees have weakened regulations requiring
ventilation in coal mines, proposed rules that would allow mine
operators to increase coal dust in the mines and delayed implementation
of a Clinton-era rule improving air quality standards.
Moreover, in response to industry complaints, the Administration has
demoted and transferred MSHA staff who have aggressively sought to
enforce safety rules and blown the whistle on policies that jeopardize
mine safety. In one example of blatant pro-industry bias, the
Administration interfered with MSHA investigations of a coal sludge
spill at a mine owned by a Massey Energy subsidiary that dumped 300
million gallons of toxic waste into Kentucky and West Virginia waterways.
Four days before the Harlan County mine tragedy, miners who had survived
accidents, families of miners killed in accidents and union members held
a rally on Capitol Hill to demand Congressional action on mine safety.
United Mine Workers president Cecil Roberts said: "The time for talking
about improving safety in the coal mines is over. Congress must act, and
act now. America's coal miners and their families cannot wait."
Peter Dreier is professor of politics and director of the Urban &
Environmental Policy program at Occidental College. He is coauthor of
The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City (University of
California Press, 2005) and Place Matters: Metropolitics for the 21st
Century (2nd edition, University Press of Kansas, 2005).
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Dr. E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics
Director, Urban & Environmental Policy Program
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