Response to deadly mine blast inadequate
by Debbie Rolen
Everyone agrees that it’s a shame 29 miners lost their lives in April 2010 when an explosion ripped through Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County.
While mining inherently is fraught with dangers, separate investigations determined this particular explosion — the deadliest in mining in four decades — was sparked by worn and broken equipment, fueled by accumulations of methane gas and coal dust, and able to spread because of water sprayers that didn’t work.
The tragedy was so great that it would seem after three years, steps would be in place to help prevent a repeat. But so far, work to guard against a similar accident is either incomplete or non-existent at different levels of government. That’s perhaps a greater shame.
As the three-year anniversary of the explosion was observed last Friday, several lawmakers decried the lack of response by Congress to enact new mechanisms to protect miners using the lessons learned from Upper Big Branch. Legislation that would address some of the issues laid bare at the mine has stalled in the U.S. House, and Democratic members of the House have criticized their Republican peers for allowing it to languish.
Among other things, the legislation would provide tougher penalties for safety violations and more protections for whistleblowers. …
To its credit, West Virginia last year passed a mine safety law that aimed to address some of the issues raised at Upper Big Branch. But implementing pieces of the law has either been slow or not yet accomplished more than a year later. One part, which originated with an executive order by then-Gov. Joe Manchin shortly after the explosion, toughened requirements for the amount of rock dust mine operators spread underground to control coal dust. State officials took more than a year to begin taking rock dust samples. They found hundreds of violations, but have not taken enforcement action against any mine operators. …
On the state level, steps already taken will fall short of their intended impact if they aren’t implemented to the fullest.
Let’s hope the shame of inaction and a missing sense of urgency ends soon.
— Distributed by The Associated Press
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