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Two Years After Fatal Mine Disaster, Workers are Still No Safer

A new bill in Congress would give the Mine Safety and Health Administration broader powers to keep corporations like Massey from abusing workers and risking their lives.

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An investigation by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity revealed that in the Appalachian communities at the heart of the coal industry cases of the most damaging phase of the disease “have quadrupled since the 1980s.” And regulatory loopholes  have enabled rampant cheating in companies' data reporting. In a sad addendum to the Upper Big Branch tragedy, the autopsies of the miners’ bodies reveal that many of them already bore signs of the disease in their lung tissue. So even if they hadn’t perished in the disaster, they might have eventually succumbed to the more insidious hazards of the job.

Noting the voluminous evidence of deadly mine-related health problems, Wrightson said, "This is a problem that should have been taken care of in the 1950s or the 60s... Mining is a huge contributor to the economy. But if you're killing all the miners, who's going to be left behind to work in the mines?"

House Republicans recently declined to answer that question when they moved to  block MSHA from developing tighter coal-dust regulations.

Underlying the push for stronger regulation is the basic moral dilemma presented by Clay Mullins when he  testified in Washington about the death of his brother Rex at Upper Big Branch:

I've been a coal miner almost 34 years... We know right from wrong in coal mining. The employers know right from wrong. But they chose to do the wrong thing ... and not provide these men with a safe workplace.

While coal companies inevitably put profits first, the law is supposed to prioritize ethics. As the industry’s shameful  death toll rises, the pressure is now on lawmakers to finally make the industry pay for doing wrong.

Michelle Chen is a contributing editor to In These Times and a regular contributor to the labor rights blog Working In These Times, Colorlines.com and Pacifica’s WBAI. Follow her on Twitter at @meeshellchen or reach her at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.
 
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