Coal Tattoo

U.S. Reps. George Miller and Lynn Woolsey, top  Democrats on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, have written a letter to Alpha Natural Resources CEO Kevin Crutchfield, questioning the company’s plans to retain top executives of Massey Energy if the merger of the two coal giants is finalized.

The letter is posted here, and it says:

We recognize that responsibility for safety rests first and foremost with you and your senior managers, and we have no intention of inserting ourselves into your personnel decisions. However, we are troubled by indications that, as Chief Executive, you could think that miners are fairly served by perpetuating Massey’s safety culture for even one minute longer.

The letter goes on:

… The executives you are hiring do not appear to have rectified Massey’s safety culture. On April 29, 2011, MSHA conducted an impact inspection at the Randolph Mine in Boone County, West Virginia, which is owned by Massey Energy and operated by Inman Energy. MSHA issued 20 withdrawal orders and 5 other citations for inadequate ventilation, loose coal dust that could cause explosions, and insufficient water pressure on sprays that could lead to ignitions. These are the same three safety requirements that were routinely breached in the period leading up to the UBB explosion.

The letter asks Crutchfield a series of questions about safety practices and concludes:

We would welcome your assistance in enacting laws that improve safety culture and the accountability of mine operators and their agents who fail to protect miners’ safety. This includes laws that provide MSHA with the authority, working with the states, to ensure that mine superintendents and senior managers are subject to certification, recertification and decertification if they fail, as well as laws that strengthen the outdated criminal penalties in the Mine Act.

We are certain that you agree that no mine manager should ever be tempted to knowingly put production ahead of safety and recklessly endanger miners, and that deterrence is reinforced when the prospect of jail time exists rather than a sinecure in the executive suite.