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Don, the unstoppable

I thought maybe I should say something about the miners.

I think it's a horrible thing that those 29 men died. They were at work, trying to earn money for themselves and their families, providing their company, state, and country with a valuable mineral resource. Mining is a dangerous job. You spend your day working with heavy equipment, doing things underground, and working with explosive materials — not to mention working around the naturally explosive methane, coal dust, and poisonous gases unearthed in the process. In spite of the danger, this was their daily routine. This was their way of life.

Miners' memorial at Charleston, WV These men are heroes. They are heroes on the same order as New York City's firefighters, police officers, and emergency workers who responded to the September 11 attacks. If I were governor, and I'd just learned of the Upper Big Branch disaster, my attention would have instantly been on exactly three things, to wit:

  1. The declaration of a new state holiday in honor of these men, and all others who have lost their lives in coal mining accidents. State offices, schools, and banks across the state would be closed on this holiday — as would every coal mine within the state borders.
  2. The establishment of a permanent fund for two purposes: first, to erect a prominent and appropriate monument in tribute to the men and women who have given their lives to this dangerous industry, and second, to provide their families with lifelong compensation in the event of a death while on the job.
  3. The immediate launch of an independent and transparent investigation of the failure at Upper Big Branch — to establish its cause, its future prevention, and if necessary, accountability.

Perhaps the key word in all of the above is accountability. The rest, while necessary for the mourning process, amounts to little more than bread and circuses. Governor Manchin has issued no demand for accountability to date, despite Massey Energy having a pretty lengthy history of making safety a secondary concern — 495 violations and over $900,000 in fines at Upper Big Branch alone in 2009, and 105 violations in the three months prior to the disaster. (Source.)

While we're at it, let's talk about Aracoma. According to the civil complaint filed by their widows, two miners were killed in early 2006 after an entire series of failsafes malfunctioned. These malfunctions took the form of fire extinguishers being insufficient to put out a fire, water lines which were not connected, water hose couplings which didn't match properly, disconnected batteries on carbon monoxide detectors, and emergency sprinklers which were simply not installed. Reading the list of travesties reminds me of old west ghost towns with false fronts on all the stores.

"If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal (i.e. — build overcasts, do construction jobs, or whatever) you need to ignore them and run coal. This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that coal pays the bills."

Don Blankenship, memo to mine superintendents, October 19, 2005

(By the way, an overcast is a structural mechanism which allows proper air circulation inside a mine.)

At some point, this needs to end. This is not a one-time incident. There is, in fact, a distinct pattern of gross negligence here. And despite the loss of 29 more lives to the coalfields, the only demands for accountability come from New York and Washington DC. Not a peep from any politician in West Virginia.

Really makes me wonder how many of them have been bought. That's complicity, in my opinion.

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