Coal Tattoo


The New York Times published a major mine-safety related editorial today, commenting on this week’s House hearing in Washington on the backlog of enforcement cases at the federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.

You can read the editorial, Sago, Four Years Later, here, but this is the bottom line:

Sago occurred after Bush administration cuts eliminated scores of safety inspectors. That has been reversed, and President Obama’s budget calls for a 27 percent further increase in financing for the mine-safety agency.

The administration also must appoint more judges and staff members to the appeals board to clear up the backlog and ensure that violators swiftly face their deserved punishments. The Sago tragedy will be compounded if its long-needed reforms fall prey to fresh schemes by unscrupulous operators.

Unfortunately, the Times got things a little muddled up when it talked about President Obama proposing a “27 percent further increase in financing for the mine-safety agency” just after talking about funding hikes for MSHA that added new coal-mine inspectors.

That 27 percent hike was proposed in the budget for the Review Commission, to help it deal with the backlog in cases.  Commission Chairwoman Mary Lu Jordan explained that during Tuesday’s hearing before the House Education and Labor Committee.

President Obama proposed a much smaller increase in MSHA’s budget — just a little more than 1 percent.  And, most of the new money will go to MSHA’s metal and nonmetal arm. Under Obama’s budget, spending on coal-mine safety at MSHA would actually drop by about $2 million.

And, the Times didn’t question why new MSHA leader Joe Main is spending precious agency resources on PR campaigns like the new “Rules to Live By” effort or — more importantly — why MSHA has backed off its promise to tighten to legal limits on coal dust that causes deadly black lung disease.

Of course, House and Senate Democratic leaders haven’t really questioned those things yet, either … We’ll see if the race to stand up for coal  includes tough oversight of MSHA now that a former United Mine Workers safety officer is in charge of the agency.