Special investigator Davitt McAteer explained to me the other day that his team has found systematic problems with not only Massey Energy’s safety practices, but with enforcement by state and federal authorities who are supposed to protect coal miners:
You have these checks and balances in company safety reviews, MSHA enforcement, state enforcement. They are there to be sure that people don’t forget. You have not just a singular failure, but multiple failures of the entire system.
Now, he’s elaborated a bit on that, in response to some questions from the great journalist Jim Morris of the Center for Public Integrity. Among other things, Morris asked McAteer:
Has anything changed, from a regulatory standpoint, over the past year?
There hasn’t been any change, either on a statewide basis in West Virginia or in the nation.
Morris followed up:
The lack of action can be traced to two items: The investigations into the disaster have not been completed . . . and Upper Big Branch was replaced by the [BP Deepwater Horizon] oil spill. The legislative agenda moves from one topic to another topic, and the first topic receives less attention. At the moment, we do not have any impetus to get a legislative package through Congress.
And McAteer added:
These are fine young men and women who live in the coal fields and work to produce the energy we all use. We call upon them to work in very difficult conditions. Sadly, we have a history of asking them to sacrifice in too great a way. We need to fix that. We need to make sure we can protect these people who turn our lights on every day.