United States mining more unsafe by austerity

This video from the USA says about itself:

Oct 25, 2011

CHARLESTON — A report released today by the United Mine Workers of America on West Virginia’s worst mine disaster in 40 years said conduct by the company was “industrial homicide.”

By Kate Randall in the USA:

Three years since West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine disaster

Sequester cuts pose new threat to US mine safety

2 April 2013

In a cruel irony, as the third anniversary of the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine disaster approaches this week, cuts due to the “sequester” are leading to the dismantling of legal teams assembled by the government to enforce mine safety. The cutbacks will reduce by $2.1 million the $22 million Congress originally allocated to a temporary project to speed up the processing of safety citations against mine operators.

The April 5, 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, owned at the time by Massey Energy, killed 29 coal miners. Flagrant safety violations on the part of Massey led to the disaster. Basic precautions were ignored, including ensuring proper ventilation and dusting work areas. A spark ignited accumulated methane gas, generating a massive coal dust-fueled blast that traveled through miles of tunnels, destroying everything and everyone in its path.

In a rationally organized society concerned with the welfare of its working population and the safe operation of industry, the UBB disaster anniversary would be the occasion to assess conditions in mine safety and consider what new steps could be taken to improve the conditions of mine workers to prevent such tragedies in the future.

But the opposite is occurring. In the current climate in Washington—in which there is “no money” to finance anything but the bank accounts of the corporate elite—cuts are being implemented that will allow mine operators to continue their unsafe operations, inevitably leading to more accidents and deaths.

The Litigation Backlog Project was set up by the US Labor Department in the wake of the Upper Big Branch disaster to deal with the backlog of contested mine safety citations. By contesting citations from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), mine owners have been able to avoid racking up large numbers of repeated serious violations that would land them in the agency’s “pattern of violation” program, where they would face greater scrutiny and could even be shut down.

After the UBB disaster, the number of unresolved appeals by mine operators had grown to 16,600, and Massey Energy had the highest contestation rate of any operator in the country. As long as the citations were being challenged, MSHA could not issue higher fines for repeated serious violations. In the five years leading up to the tragic explosion, Massey had been fined a mere $1.89 million in penalties on 1,422 citations at the Upper Big Branch mine.

The sequestration cuts will close two of the Litigation Backlog Project’s five offices, and 30 of the 74 lawyers hired for the project will be laid off by June 1. Robert J. Lesnick, chief judge of the citation review panel, criticized the move in a comment reported in the Washington Post: “If litigation is the bite in any enforcement model, then [the Labor Department], in firing 30 attorneys, is pulling its teeth.”

The winding down of the project is only the latest installment in a process that has allowed Massey Energy to receive what amounted to a slap on the wrist for the deaths of 29 miners. The company was assessed $10.8 million in fines for 369 citations—astonishingly the largest financial penalty for any mine disaster in US history.

On Thursday, jury selection for the trial of Don Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy, began in Charleston, West Virginia. Blankenship was at the helm of Massey on April 5, 2010 when the company’s Upper Big Branch mine near Montcoal, West Virginia exploded, killing 29 miners. It was the worst coalmine disaster in nearly four decades: here.

West Virginia jury deliberates in trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship: here.

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship was released from prison Wednesday after serving a one year sentence in connection with the April 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, which killed 29 coal miners. The Upper Big Branch blast was the worst US mine disaster in 40 years: here.

3 thoughts on “United States mining more unsafe by austerity

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