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Speaking out of both sides of its mouth

Posted on May 1, 2015 at 3:20 PM

Yesterday, April 30, 2015, I read the editorial in The Journal:  Safety First, Additional protection for miners just makes sense.  I was primed to disagree with whatever was written, because The Journal is a corporate apologist, and I am not.  Upon first reading the editorial, which was lauding the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety and Protection Act of 2015, I was mildly surprised.  The Act itself stands, generally, for the proposition that mine safety regulations must be enforced.  It wasn't until my third reading of the editorial that I began to understand why The Journal was apparently supporting a mine safety bill.  In fact, The Journal was not supporting increased mine safety.

I think that The Journal's real purpose behind the editorial is found in paragraph five:

Many mine owners complain MSHA inspectors are too eager to hand out citations for technical violations that have little if anything to do with     keeping miners safe.  Obviously that attitude, where present, should be discouraged--because, if anything, it may be a distraction from enforcing truly important rules.

The first question that came to my mind was who gets to decide what is a truly important rule versus a technical violation:  the complaining mine owners?

Allowing the complaining mine owners to control safety in a mine would be consistent with The Journal's support for The Coal Jobs and Safety Act 2015 (the "Act"), that was passed by our republican led legislature, and signed into law on March 12, 2015.  Cecil E. Roberts, President of the United Mine Workers of America International said of the law:

Today marks the first time in West Virginia history that our state has officially reduced safety standards for coal miners.  It is a truly sad day for those miners and their families, and once again demonstrates that our beloved state has yet to break free of the out-of-state corporate interests.

As usual, I had to do some research, and I found that the Friends of Coal, disagreed with Cecil, and thought the Act was a pretty good deal, and found that the West Virginia Coal Association also thought the Act was a step in the right direction.  There was something curious about the logos for these two organizations, however, they looked suspiciously alike:  their name with a glorious swoop underneath, probably to signify progress or something.  Upon further research, however, I found that there was a perfectly logical explanation for why their logos were similar: Friends of Coal is a West Virginia based, republican supported political action committee (read hidden money), and West Virginia Coal Association is made up of the owners of the various mines, not the miners, just the owners (read more hidden money).

I was still curious about why Cecil thought that the Act was a bad thing for miners, and I found that Delegate Mike Caputo, a democrat representing Marion County, had laid it out in a fairly understandable manner.  Delegate Caputo said that there were many areas in which the Act rolled back safety regulations, but identified two in particular:  the Act abolishes the West Virginia Diesel Commission, which protects miners in underground mines that use diesel equipment by ensuring that all such equipment meets safety standards (this job will now be done by a single person, the Director of the Office of Miners' Health and Safety Training - who obviously has nothing else to do); and the Act would increase the distance a rail track can be from a working face area from 500' to 1500' (accordingly, if a miner is injured at the face, he has to be transported by hand more than three times the distance before he can be transported out of the mine on a train.)  The representatives of the coal industry (see Friends of Coal, and West Virginia Coal Association, above) have said the legislation will reduce operating costs to help make them more competitive.  Well, even I can see that:  think of the savings in just those 1000' of track alone!

In a very sad, but expected irony on March 15, 2015, three days after the Act became law, a miner died when a roof collapsed at the McElroy Mine.  The McElroy Mine is owned by the Marshall County Coal Company, which is, in turn, owned by the Murray Energy Company, whose CEO is Robert Murray, a fabulously wealthy donor to all causes republican, and outspoken critic of any law that would impede productivity.  In 2014 the McElroy Mine was cited by MSHA inspectors 970 times.  In 2014, the McElroy Mine suffered 47 significant injuries to miners.  In 2015, as of March 15, 2015, the McElroy Mine had already incurred another 14 significant injuries to miners.  I wonder how many of those 970 citations were for those pesky "technical violations"?

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the point is this:  West Virginians must stop hewing to the corporate line.  Corporations care about profits, not people, and certainly not West Virginians. 

Categories: Odd musings

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