You have to hand it to West Virginia. [Irony alert] Some states might well lie down for an industry as big as Big Coal, might refuse to regulate them in order to keep that lush stream of money coming (no, silly, not the trickle of severance taxes to the state, the fire-hose of campaign contributions to the candidates). And that might have been the case in West Virginia prior to 2010, the year 29 men died in an explosion in a mine that was being operated, the subsequent investigation found, in a “profoundly reckless manner.” Well, West Virginia had had enough, and to make sure such sacrifice to unmitigated greed would never happen again, it [end-of-irony alert] did absolutely nothing.
President Obama, however, had had enough. He ordered a sweeping review of mine safety regulations and a crackdown on those who regularly flouted them.
The results were awe-inspiring. The Mine Safety and Health Administration looked at the mines with long lists of ignored violations, failed inspections and endless appeals of citations, and decided to use the nuclear option. They decided to create another list. Of the mines with a “pattern of violations.” Instantly they had a cool acronym for it — POV. Mission accomplished.
Oh, sure, those who ended up on the POV list were supposed to be subjected to more and stricter inspections and admonishments. Let’s see how it worked out.
Last October, after a nine-month survey of all the mines in the United States, three were designated “pattern violators.” The three worst offenders in the country. Two were from West Virginia. One of them was Brody Mine #1, located about ten miles from the mine that blew up in 2010.
Here’s what the Mine Safety and Health Administration said about the Brody mine last October:
Brody Mining’s Brody Mine No. 1 received 253 S&S violations during the review period. An MSHA audit of Brody Mining’s records found that injuries of miners resulted in 1,757 lost work days at the mine, 367 of which were from eight lost-time injuries that Brody Mining failed to report to MSHA. The company was also audited during the 2012 POV screening process. In that audit, MSHA found 29 injuries Brody Mining failed to report and 724 unreported lost work days.
In a slightly different, partially overlapping time frame, Brody was cited for 192 safety violations, including 33 for high or reckless disregard for miners’ health and safety. Having thus demonstrated its contempt for miner safety, Brody#1 began the extraordinarily dangerous practice of retreat mining, in which the ceiling of a played-out coal mine is deliberately collapsed as the miners withdraw, to get the last morsels of coal.
On Monday night, there was a coal burst — an eruption of coal and gas. Two miners died. Seven months after the mine was identified by the federal government as one of the three worst mines in the United States for caring about the safety of its workers.
Hey, West Virginia. Had enough yet?