Problem Mine Had Highest Withdrawal Rate in the Country
Per their request, West Virginia’s lawmakers were briefed by the White House this afternoon on developments surrounding the investigation of last week’s explosion that killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch Mine south of Charleston. Here’s a hint: They aren’t exactly thrilled with what they’re hearing.
Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) just issued a statement calling the tragedy “incomprehensible” considering the number of safety measures Congress has enacted over the years to protect miners. Massey Energy, the Virginia-based coal giant that owns the mine, bears the responsibility for the accident, Byrd added.
Disasters on this scale were supposed to be relegated to history following the passage of the 1969 Coal Act. It’s incomprehensible that 29 miners should have perished in what appears to be a methane gas explosion, exacerbated by excessive coal dust. It is a violation of the most basic health and safety laws. We must determine why the enforcement process broke down, and hold accountable those responsible.
The ultimate responsibility for the health and safety of the miners falls to the mine operator.
No captain of industry, regardless of power or position, is beyond the reach the law. We mean to act swiftly, deliberately, and comprehensively to protect our miners, and to hold accountable any operator who puts profits above the health and safety of his own employees.
Federal safety officials closed parts of the Upper Big Branch 48 times in 2009 alone, Byrd said. The reason? “Repeated significant and substantial violations.” That’s nearly 19 times the national rate, Byrd says, “and the highest in the country.”
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) just released a statement of his own. Like President Obama earlier today, Rockefeller is spreading the blame around. ”This is a shared responsibility for the companies and the government alike to keep our mines safe,” he said.