Mine owners and Congress desecrate 29 miners’ graves

From the Jan.-Feb. 2011 issue of News & Letters:

Mine owners and Congress desecrate 29 miners’ graves

Detroit–Following the coal mine explosion that killed 29 miners at the Massey Coal Company’s Upper Big Branch mine last April, Congressional hearings disclosed the horrendous safety violations at that mine and produced a lot of breast beating and outraged outcries vowing to pass mine safety legislation that would “never allow this to happen again.”

At that time I wrote that legislation to increase mine safety law enforcement, close existing safety avoidance loopholes and hire more mine investigators would result in the l00 coal lobbyists and lawyers working overtime to make sure that the legislation would contain many loopholes for coal operators to sleaze through. That was then, when everyone thought that such legislation would certainly be enacted.

Since then, there has been such a regressive political shift to the right, fueled by both a Supreme Court decision that gave a green light to unfettered corporate political contributions and the dismal failures of the Obama administration, that the unbelievable a few months ago is now menacingly looming in all of society. One of the victims of this frightening threat was the coal safety legislation.

The coal company lobbyists, along with their Chamber of Commerce and other financial and corporate allies, were so effective that the safety legislation in the House of Representatives fell short under lame-duck session rules, while in the Senate the proposed legislation didn’t even get to the floor to debate due to the Republican minority’s filibustering to block legislation.

A recent New York Times editorial stated that the failure to pass this much-needed legislation is an insult to the memory of the 29 miners who were killed in the Big Branch mine explosion. But it is much more than that, and much more than being the moral and ethical thing to do.

It means that the existing woefully inadequate mine safety laws–laws that permit coal operators to escape punishment for their negligent safety practices that lead to the injury and death of miners, to delay and avoid payment of fines levied against them for their infractions and to allow them to continue to harass, intimidate and fire any miner who dares to complain about mine safety violations–all remain in effect.

Unfortunately, prospects for mine safety legislation are at best very dim. With the Republicans in new positions of power in Washington, and with President Obama’s continuing shift to the right, coal safety legislation is at best on the back burner.

There is, however, one bright spot in the aftermath of the Massey coal miners’ deaths, and that is the resignation of Don Blankenship, the owner of the Massey coal empire in Appalachia, beginning the first of this year. The negative publicity he generated for his abusive and dictatorial practices, his violent opposition to unions and environmentalism and his contempt toward anyone who disagreed with him, all swelled to engulf him and threaten the profitability of his coal empire.

Even his brutish and barbaric practices could not withstand the turmoil he created. He had to go–and while his departure was certainly unwilling, it was inevitable.

–Andy Phillips

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