Coal Tattoo

What politicians could say when coal miners die



It’s been 12 years since that early morning explosion in Upshur County. Twelve years since the Sago Mine Disaster. A year for each of the families who lost someone they loved.

But what I can’t stop thinking about is a much more recent coal-mining death. The one that happened on Friday, just a few days after Christmas and a few days before New Year’s Day. As the Gazette-Mail’s Erin Beck reported:

“Preliminary information indicates Thurman A. Watts of Harts, WV, died when a dozer he was operating traveled over the high wall,” the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training said in a prepared statement Friday. Watts died at about 1 a.m. at the Revelation Energy, LLC, Revelation S7 mine in Fayette County.

“I don’t have any information on the surface conditions at the time of the incident,” Samantha Smith, a spokeswoman for the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, said in an email. “MHS&T is conducting an investigation.
Exactly one minute after the state mine safety office email dropped into my inbox on Friday, the standard statement came in from Gov. Jim Justice:

“Cathy and I are deeply saddened today after learning of the death of one of our coal miners in Fayette County. It’s heartbreaking when we hear that one of our coal miners has lost their life while on the job. Please join us in praying for the family, friends, and co-workers of Thurman A. Watts and all of our hard working and dedicated coal miners in West Virginia.”

About a half-hour later came the statement from Sen. Joe Manchin:

“All of West Virginia is heartbroken to learn of the loss of Thurman A. Watts today. Yet again, we are reminded of the incredible sacrifices our coal miners and their families make every day. Gayle and I join the entire state in sending our thoughts and prayers to the Watts family during this difficult time.

It’s a lot like the tweet that Sen. Shelley Moore Capito sent out today marking the Sago anniversary:


These deaths are tragic. They should remind us of the sacrifices coal miners make. Personally, I think praying for their families is a fine idea.

But coming from political leaders — people with power and authority to ensure coal miners are given a better chance of going home each day — these words are pretty hollow without even the smallest bit of policy or promise of action. Here’s what political leaders who really care about coal miners could say when a miner is killed on the job:

This is another senseless and preventable death in our nation’s mines. We owe it to our coal miners — and the families of those who have suffered these deaths — to redouble our efforts to reach the only goal we should all have: Zero mining deaths and injuries. We know how to keep coal miners safe and there’s no excuse for not doing it.