Thursday, April 15, 2010

Reflecting on the Upper Big Branch mining disaster

Ten days after news broke of the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, I still find myself somewhat preoccupied with what happened (read here and here), how it happened, and to whom it happened (read here and here). Given that so many mining-dependent communities and economies are rural, I am angry about government's failure (read more here and here) to better protect a largely invisible constituency, who are also relatively powerless--and who happen to be mostly rural. The map pasted here, from the USDA Economic Research Service, shows nonmetropolitan counties with mining-dependent economies in brown and metropolitan counties with mining-dependent economies in black.
I am thinking about the desperation--yes, desperation--that people in these rural communities experience for good jobs. (Read more here). And even with all of the dangers mining presented, these jobs with Massey Energy were "good jobs," and many employees remain loyal to Massey.

I was somewhat heartened today to hear this from President Obama as he ordered enhanced mine safety inspections:
There’s still a lot that we don’t know. But we do know that this tragedy was triggered by a failure at the Upper Big Branch mine — a failure first and foremost of management, but also a failure of oversight and a failure of laws so riddled with loopholes that they allow unsafe conditions to continue.
Read more here.

And I was annoyed all over again at Don Blankenship, Massey's CEO, when he called President Obama's remarks "regrettable." I fail to see anything in the least regrettable about them. Indeed, they are entirely appropriate.

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