12 Dead Miners and a President's Priorities

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

12 Dead Miners and a President's Priorities

Free-market conservatives and their GOP allies rarely miss a chance to deride the need for government regulation of businesses. Over the past few decades, their anti-regulatory message has resonated with the voters. It remains to be seen if these attitudes will be changed at all by the news early this morning that 12 coal miners died after an underground explosion at a mine in Upshur County, West Virginia.

As the Washington Post reported today:
Time and again over the past four years, federal mining inspectors documented the same litany of problems at central West Virginia's Sago Mine: mine roofs that tended to collapse without warning. Faulty or inadequate tunnel supports. A dangerous buildup of flammable coal dust.

Yesterday, the mine's safety record came into sharp focus as officials searched for explanations for Monday's underground explosion ...

In the past two years, the mine was cited 273 times for safety violations, of which about a third were classified as "significant and substantial," according to documents compiled by the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Many were for problems that could contribute to accidental explosions or the collapse of mine tunnels, records show.

... The average number of working days lost (at Sago) because of accidents in the past five years was nearly double the national average for underground coal mines, MSHA documents show.
The MSHA is charged with monitoring the conditions in mines, assessing penalties when necessary, and applying pressure on mine owners to improve conditions.

Perhaps President Bush can explain to the people of Upshur County, W. Va., why his administration proposed a funding level for the Mine Safety and Health Administration in the 2006 fiscal year that, adjusted for inflation, amounts to a $4.9 million reduction.

Last year, the AFL-CIO noted that Bush's anti-regulatory ideology would have other consequences for MSHA:
The Bush administration has proposed a cut in MSHA's program for standards development (from $2.3 million in FY 2005 to $2.0 million in FY 2006) and cuts in program evaluation and program administration. Like OSHA, no new major safety and health rules are planned at MSHA. Instead, many important safety and health rules have been blocked or withdrawn.

... Since taking office in 2001, the Bush administration has reduced MSHA staff by 170 positions.
Cutting "standards development" means more safety problems can slip through the cracks. Fewer staff means fewer fines and less pressure on mine companies to focus on safety. See how it works?

Yeah, it sure is a good thing we've started to get the government off the backs of those job-creating mine companies, eh Mr. President?

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