President Obama on coal-mine safety

March 24, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.


Well, it sounds like no one from the Obama administration took my suggestion and made a major announcement about their plans concerning fighting black lung disease during yesterday’s Coal Act anniversary celebration.

But the Labor Department did get a nice letter out of President Obama for the occasion. The President said, among other things:

In communities across America, the dangers of mining have been exposed through disasters and terrible losses of life. These tragedies were once all too common in our country, revealing the need for occupational safety measures to protect miners.

Since becoming law in 1969, the Coal Act has improved working conditions, reduced fatalities, and addressed pressing health concerns faced by miners such as black lung disease. Guarding the health and security of our workers preserves the long-term health of our citizens, our economy and our Nation.

Of course, the law also aimed to eliminate all black lung disease — something that is far from being achieved — and so far the Obama administration has declined to get back on track with its initial plan to tighten the legal limit for coal dust that causes this disease.


In her remarks at yesterday’s event, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis again recalled her visit last year to Patriot Coal’s Federal No. 2 Mine. Without naming the mine this time, Solis said:

And in those 40 years, we’ve seen incredible changes in mine safety.
I was fortunate to witness many of those changes myself when I toured an underground coal mine in West Virginia last summer.
I was impressed by the equipment they use today, and by all the technological advances and safety and health improvements that have been put in place.

Secretary Solis  did not say anything about the broad investigation there of the falsification of important mine safety records by mine management…

8 Responses to “President Obama on coal-mine safety”

  1. oldcoalminer says:

    Our President cares about us and is doing everything he can to make WV mines safer, he is trying to shut them all down. They want to stop surface mining, the safest kind of mining, and when this administration gets that cap & trade thing going, we can shut down those pesky underground coal mines and those coal fired power plants. Then the only dust that WV coal miners will have to breathe will be that coming off of the roads leading out of WV. Then that will be the change we all can believe in.
    Our nationhas looked to West Virginia’s hard working coalminers to provide the coal that has made the steel that built this nation and provided the electricity to power the greatest country in this world. God will continue to bless West Virginia, and as he always has it’s coalminers. You can trash the coal companies forever more, but ultimately the ones you hurt the most, are the people of this state you should love the most. Our coalminers and their families. All we have ever tried to do is to provide a better life and education for our children. So, Mr. Obama please leave us alone. Your only going to be in there a couple of more years.

  2. Mark Halstead says:

    Coal is not now, nor has it ever been a safe occupation. Bless President Obama for recognizing the crooked past of the mining industry on this issue. Alaskans get a subsidy for the energy extracted from their state. West Virginians get their mountains and towns laid waste while dying sick and old before their time. A little fairness would go a long way.

  3. oldcoalminer says:

    I don’t know if you work in the mining industry or not Mark but if you did you should know very well that it is much safer now than it has ever been.
    Us coalminers don’t work between two rocks just for the thrill or the rush we do it for the money. We have families that like nice things. Any miner that wants to after a few years in the industry can make over $100,000 a year in entry level management positions. You don’t have to have a degree you just need three years of underground experience, be able to pass an examination given by the state and hard work. It’s not easy but there is not anything in an underground coal mine to be afraid of we can control everything in our enviroment. The problem is when any of the people don’t respect and stay aware of the possible dangers. NO company forces coal miners to do anything dangerous. Most of the time when accidents happen to miners they can look in a mirror and tell that man you got me hurt. The comparison between Alaska and WV is ridiculous. The people that own the minerals in WV are reaping the profits. These people bought this land and the minerals on it and it’s their right to do with it what they want to. What the enviromentalists should do is buy it from them and stop all the so called destruction.

  4. Mark Halstead says:

    My father was a miner for thirty years. One of my brothers is still a miner. I have had friends die in rock falls under bolted top. Hence my statement that mining is never safe. I do not expect mining to stop. I would prefer to see jobs expand and the mountaintops remain in place. Perhaps both of these can’t happen. A lot of land where I grew up was obtained from farmers by land companies after coal was discovered. The “businessmen” of the time lobbied for real estate taxes which the farmers could not afford to pay. They had to sell or have nothing in return. It has continued to be a crooked business ever since. I have a right to expect fair treatment for the people of Southern West Virginia. They have not had it up to now.

    I am glad you are happy with your lot in life and I certainly don’t want people to lose the few jobs that are left (mountaintop removal employs far less workers than underground operations), but there is a right way and a wrong way to conduct affairs on this planet. The present administration is trying to improve that conduct, not cause unemployment.

  5. TexasCoalMiner says:

    As for the safety and health improvements, conditions today are far better than when the Coal Act was passed, But to say that the obama Administration is trying to improve the way mining companies do their business is absurd! Both in Texas and West virginia the collection arm of the Administration (MSHA) is making it ever increasingly difficult to expand and increase employement due to increased fines and new interpretations on old rules that need to be rewritten (high ranking MSHA district 9 Official stated this at the Shreveport Safety Conference). So it is a great thing to celebrate the 40th aniversary of the Act but lets update it to reflect the conditions that we face today! Dialogue on both sides is needed to move forward, how ironic in a year that marked the alltime low number of mining fatalites the “rules to live by” came out with its revenue increasing special assessment provision and increased pressure on inspectors to write citations on these standards even if the condition cited doesnt violate the law as was the case at our mine in Texas!! Get real MSHA!!

  6. Mary Riggs says:


    Any of you following the WV mining accident the last couple days need to know the history of how such a tragedy can happen 50 years after the Health & Safety laws of the 1960’s were first enacted.

    While Massey Mines prided themselves on double production, being “union busters” and had found a loophole in the 2006 mining regulations passed after the Seco Mining disaster they were non-union.

    Regardless of you thoughts about unions, in the mines they have been the only shift by shift on-site regulator that has the authority to shut down a job. Their fire bosses go into the mine prior to each shift and have the authority to deem a site unsafe to work.

    Massey chose to pay fines rather than shut down and correct the issues regarding the unsafe working conditions that in March alone totaled more than 500 violaltions.

    Massey was a “self-governance mine” from 2003-present with over 3,000 violations that had they been either union or under OSHA would have shut down production in many cases. Senator Rockefeller has taken responsibility for the loophole in the 2006 regulations citing he will address them immediately.

    If ever there be a question as to which party is in the pocket of big business, simply following the mining disasters and what regulations were put into effect and by whom.

    The “mono-economy” in these areas dictates the coming to work for your next shift with nothing changed from the shift that experienced the explosion.

    If the federal government failed and owed the victims of 911 for failure to keep them safe I see no difference in this as self-governance is the fox guarding the chicken coop.

  7. kumatose says:

    Mary Riggs… great post.

  8. As a native of south western Va with a genealogical tree that reaches deep innto the coal mines of West VA I grew up playing at the borders of strip mines. I can still remember the deep orange color of the creeks near these strip mines. When I actually saw an npolluted creek I was astounded at the clarity of the water. the trailer home I grew up in was actually situated on a “reclaimed strip mine”- perfect for development!- as they were nice and flat in an area dominated by rugged mountains, the oldest in the world and once higher than the Himalayas.
    I also remember going on visits with my mother to families of miners who died from black lung. All this stuff was very mysterious to me, even more complicated by the fact that my favority uncle had risen from a laborer in the deep mines to become a vice president in a major mining corporation owned by Armen Hammer. Today I am saddened to hear that President Obama is still using the coal industry for political leverage. How many more decades will it be before an enlightened president will speak the truth to the American people about the need to conserve energy as a means to exticating ourselves from the morass of the middle east? I fear that, as much as I celebrated Obama’s election, he is not the one. From now on i vote for my conscience

Leave a Reply