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Silence From Other Coal Country Lawmakers in Wake of West Virginia Blast

Following the horrific explosion at a West Virginia coal mine Monday, a strange thing has happened on Capitol Hill: Everyone seems to be treating the disaster as an issue peculiar to West Virginia.

Indeed, while we’ve seen plenty of statements and public interviews from West Virginia’s congressional delegation in recent days, we’re not hearing anything at all from the other Appalachian lawmakers, some of whom represent districts that are home to other active, underground, Massey-owned coal mines that together have racked up hundreds of safety violations this year alone.

Pike County, Ky., for example, is home to Freedom Mine #1, a Massey-owned project that’s tallied 187 citations this year. Among the violations are a number involving problems with mine ventilation systems and the accumulation of combustible materials — the same combination suspected to have caused Monday’s explosion in West Virginia. Rep. Hal Rogers (R) represents that district, yet there’s no mention of the West Virginia incident on his Website. And calls and emails to his office this week haven’t been returned.

Another example: Rep. Rick Boucher (D) represents Tazewell County, Va., which is home to the Tiller No. 1 Mine. That Massey-controlled project has been cited 56 times this year for safety infractions, including vent problems, accumulations of combustibles and a failure to maintain escapeways. Boucher’s Website this week recognizes a new water system in his district, but doesn’t mention Monday’s accident. A Boucher spokeswoman emailed today to clarify that he hasn’t made any public statements on the event.

Similar silence is coming form the offices of Virginia Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb, and Kentucky Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning. (Both McConnell and Bunning are featuring statements about how the Obama administration’s recent mountaintop mining restrictions will cripple the coal industry.)

Yes, Congress is on recess, and the lawmakers are bouncing around their districts doing whatever it is they do at home. But this was the most significant mining disaster in 26 years. It’s a bit surprising we’re not seeing more reaction from Capitol Hill.

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