Coal Tattoo

Friday roundup, May 21, 2010

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Wow … it was another big week full of coal-mining news. I wanted to pass on some links for more coverage of yesterday’s mine safety hearing before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee.

Among those covering it were The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, McClatchy Newspapers, National Public Radio, West Virginia Public Broadcasting, the Beckley Register-Herald, and the Louisville Courier-Journal.

And there were a couple of interesting commentaries on The Huffington Post. One by Gary Bass of OMB Watch connects some dots between the Massey Mine Disaster, the BP Oil Disaster and the Toyota Recall Disaster:

These events have a few things in common, not the least of which is that they all illustrate a governmental failure to effectively regulate business activity and protect the public.

In each instance, businesses with poor safety records have continued to operate in a system of voluntary regulation. Federal agencies, battered by lengthy procedural hurdles, slashed budgets, and anti-government sentiments, rely on business to police themselves. After each “accident,” Congress and the media begin a crusade: how can such things happen and why didn’t somebody see this coming? But after all the hand-wringing and finger-pointing, rarely is anything done to prevent future catastrophes. Instead, we continue to be stuck with “government by reaction.”

Another, by Rena Steinzor of the Center for Progressive Reform, attempts to make the case for criminal prosecution of Massey CEO Don Blankenship. Interestingly, if you look at the photo above, you see Blankenship with Massey’s general counsel, Shane Harvey, and also with Robert Luskin, a well-known Washington, D.C., lawyer who specializes in white-collar criminal defense. Luskin represented Massey subsidiaries Aracoma Coal Co. and White Buck Coal when those two companies pleaded guilty to criminal mine safety violations in recent years.

Cecil Roberts, International President of the United Mine Workers of America, right, listens as Massey Energy Company Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 20, 2010, before the Senate Health and Human Services subcommittee hearing on mine safety. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Mourning family members seen during the funeral prayers for a mine explosion victim in Zonguldak, Turkey, Friday, May 21, 2010. Rescuers on Thursday found the bodies of 28 miners deep in a damaged coal mine near the northern Black Sea port of Zonguldak, making the methane gas explosion three days earlier one of the deadliest mine accidents in Turkey in recent years. Rescuers are still trying to find two miners still missing in the mine.(AP Photo)

And while another Massey Energy miner died today in West Virginia,  there was also bad news out of Turkey, where the bodies of 28 miners were found following an explosion earlier this week.

In Russia, according to the New York Times:

The Raspadskaya Coal Company announced on Tuesday that, Igor I. Volkov, the director of the mine where 90 people were killed in twin methane explosions, has left his post after a public reproach from Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, who said the mine’s management should be held accountable for safety violations.

And is that weren’t enough, there was this:

The body of a missing man was recovered Friday from a Russian coal mine where two miners were believed to have died in a cave-in.

The roof collapse at the Alexeyevsakaya mine near Kemerovo buried a 30-foot section of the coal pit Wednesday, ITAR-Tass reported. All but two of the 107 miners underground at the time escaped unharmed.

The Wall Street Journal covered the release of a report by Senate Republicans which denounced the Obama administration for holding up issuance of more mountaintop removal mining permits in West Virginia. Others with coverage included The Associated Press.  But if you missed it, the Gazette had a strong editorial that took a bit of a different look at the whole mountaintop removal issue:

The work of Appalachian coal miners built American industry. The broader population prospered, and continues to prosper from the electricity and steel that coal makes possible. That’s true of the few people who own most of the coal to everyone who carries an iPhone or uses a quiet, “clean” cordless weed trimmer. The burdens of that progress have largely been carried by generations of miners who died of roof falls, explosions or black lung and by communities who breathe black dust and put up with acid mine drainage.

Now that broader society is demanding change – cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and limits on mountaintop removal, for example – why should those same families and communities bear the brunt of the economic hardships that these changes will bring?

The region deserves more consideration. Leaders must devise some sort of path for young people to prepare to earn a living when the coal jobs – and eventually the coal – are gone.

This is all we know?

We mentioned earlier in the week the release of three key National Academy of Sciences reports about climate change, and here’s another story about those, noting:

Ditching their past cautious tone, the nation’s top scientists urged the government Wednesday to take drastic action to raise the cost of using coal and oil to slow global warming.

The National Academy of Sciences specifically called for a carbon tax on fossil fuels or a cap-and-trade system for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, labeling global warming an urgent threat.

Finally, don’t forget that Alan Jackson is donating the profits from his concert tomorrow night here in Charleston to the families of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster. You can hear his latest song, “Hard Hat and a Hammer,” here: