The Mix

The bigger story behind the mine disaster

The government agency in charge of mine safety has been weakened by the GOP's business-friendly (and people-hostile) politics.
The tragic story of the 12 dead miners in West Virginia keeps getting sadder. Soon after the New York Times, the Washington Post, the AP and many other papers went to press with front-page stories detailing how all but one miner survived the collapse, an official with the mining company, the International Coal Group, reversed the announcement, saying that due to bad communication, the reality is that all but one of the miners had died.

The Times has now published an article about the reversal, saying in part: that, "what followed was pandemonium. 'People who had been praising God a minute before were cursing him' Mr. [John Cato, a friend of the miners] said."
But more fury was aimed at the mining executives. The company's chief executive said people directing the effort misunderstood a phone call in which rescuers reported finding the men. Residents were also angry that the company delayed correcting the error for almost three hours, although they learned the true nature of the situation after 20 minutes.
Beyond these tragic deaths, I hope that this leads to some reform in Washington and in mines around the country. Because the fact is, there are likely many more similar tragedies waiting to happen. Over at DailyKos, blogger PaulVA writes that, in recent years, the Sago mine has in recent years been cited for 168 safety violations. And how is this mine, and likely many similar mines, still functioning?
Today, an OSHA inspector needs to provide PRIOR WARNING to an employer at least 24 hours before an inspection. Why? Because of GOPers such as Cass Ballenger. He headed the Employment and Workforce Committee and played a major role in deforming it in the 90s.

Where OSHA was once effective at pursuing law breakers and fining them, OSHA has now been defanged as enforcement money was earmaked for "non-enforcement" programs that would do relative harm to all those poor small businessmen Ballenger would always champion.

And who are they? Any employer with less than 250 employees at a given plant. That, to Ballenger, is a small business.
Once again, business-friendly government inherently puts regular people at risk.

You can look up the Sago mine's violations from the government's Mine Safety and Health Administration's Data Retrieval System. Enter mine number 4608791 for the Sago mine.
Matthew Wheeland is AlterNet's managing editor.
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