Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Another West Virginia mine disaster--evidence of a federal regulatory failure?

Twenty-five miners are dead in Montcoal, West Virginia. Read a report by Ian Urbina and Michael Cooper here.

The story notes numerous safety issues with the Upper Big Branch mine, as well as others owned by Massey Energy.
The Massey Energy Company, the biggest coal mining business in central Appalachia and the owner of the Upper Big Branch mine, has drawn sharp scrutiny and fines from regulators over its safety and environmental record. Several of its violations have been for improperly ventilating methane.

In 2008, one of its subsidiaries paid what federal prosecutors called the largest settlement in the history of the coal industry after pleading guilty to safety violations that contributed to the deaths of two miners in a fire in one of its mines. That year, Massey also paid a $20 million fine — the largest of its kind levied by the Environmental Protection Agency — for clean water violations.

It then includes this rather unfortunate quote from Massey's CEO, Don Blankenship:
“Violations are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process. There are violations at every coal mine in America, and [Upper Big Branch] was a mine that had violations. I think the fact that M.S.H.A., the state and our fire bosses and the best engineers that you can find were all in and around this mine, and all believed it to be safe in the circumstances it was in, speaks for itself as far as any suspicion that the mine was improperly operated.”
Montcoal is in Raleigh County, population 79,024. Montcoal is not even a Census Designated Place and so the Census Bureau provides no population estimate for it. It lies south of Charleston, West Virginia.

Massey Energy has been mentioned in a number of prior posts, mostly those involving its effort to influence West Virginia judicial elections. Read them here and here.

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