DON BLANKENSHIP

Last month I posted an essay on this website and sent it along with a letter to Congress and some state Governors suggesting that they ask the Mine Safety and Health Administration a few basic questions. The issues the essay brought attention to include the idling of mine equipment scrubbers, the fact that the "MSHA" Upper Big Branch tragedy investigation was flawed (i.e. UBB was a natural gas explosion, not a dust explosion), the continued poor quality of mapping and its risks, etc. The overarching point that the essay made is that MSHA is a bureaucracy dominated by outdated "union think" and that it is exercising destructive control over the mining industry. The result is not only ineffective policy, but the lessening of coal miners health and safety.

The essay pointed out that MSHA's mandated idling of scrubbers is the clearest example of MSHA's disregard for coal miners' well-being. But scrubbers are not the only example of MSHA rules that endanger coal miners. Others include complex ventilation plans that create "blind spots" due to excessive curtain needs, non-sensical cut-sequence plans that complicate the production process, and horribly inconsistent rulemaking. Consider that on some mine production sections miners break the law if they run a scrubber on one side of their section and yet break the law if they don't run the scrubber on the other side of their section.

Unfortunately, we have seen no sign that either Congress or MSHA intend to do anything about these safety issues. This, despite the fact that accidents continue to occur as a result of these failings.

West Virginia Governor Tomblin required a one hour "mine shut-down" last month after a West Virginia mine fatality, in order to bring industry attention to the need for more focus on safety. A one hour symbolic shutdown accomplishes nothing. It's the government itself that needs to focus on safety, and for a lot longer than one hour. Instead, after a "political hour" politicians will return to letting MSHA force coal miners into unsafe non-sensical practices. It is past time for the government and the industry to stand against MSHA and with the coal miners. Coal miners deserve the best technology, ventilation and mine practices available. They shouldn't instead be the victims of MSHA's tyranny nor of the industry's passive submission to it.

MSHA isn't the only government agency failing their obligation to coal miners. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) says in it's mission statement that its purpose is to generate new knowledge in the field of safety and transfer that knowledge into practices for the betterment of workers. Yet, coal mine safety improvement is pitifully slow.

Ventilation plans are a constant subject of debate between MSHA and coal operators, yet computer technology that could help to determine the better ventilation plan goes unused. The same is true of mapping. Equipment proximity devices that are readily available on automobiles are nearly non-existent in the field of mining, as are airbags. At Massey we generated dozens of new safety devices, and the government not only failed to support many of these devices, it stood in the way of them.

Ronald Reagan said "government isn't the solution, it's the problem." This statement can be rightfully applied to MSHA. MSHA isn't the solution to mine safety it is a big part of the problem. MSHA should require that all scrubbers be operated, that ventilation and mining sequences be easy to manage, and that computer technology be used to improve mapping and ventilation.

Unfortunately, we have seen no sign that either Congress or MSHA intend to do anything about these safety issues. This, despite the fact that accidents continue to occur as a result of these failings.

West Virginia Governor Tomblin required a one hour "mine shut-down" last month after a West Virginia mine fatality, in order to bring industry attention to the need for more focus on safety. A one hour symbolic shutdown accomplishes nothing. It's the government itself that needs to focus on safety, and for a lot longer than one hour. Instead, after a "political hour" politicians will return to letting MSHA force coal miners into unsafe non-sensical practices. It is past time for the government and the industry to stand against MSHA and with the coal miners. Coal miners deserve the best technology, ventilation and mine practices available. They shouldn't instead be the victims of MSHA's tyranny nor of the industry's passive submission to it.

MSHA isn't the only government agency failing their obligation to coal miners. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) says in it's mission statement that its purpose is to generate new knowledge in the field of safety and transfer that knowledge into practices for the betterment of workers. Yet, coal mine safety improvement is pitifully slow.

Ventilation plans are a constant subject of debate between MSHA and coal operators, yet computer technology that could help to determine the better ventilation plan goes unused. The same is true of mapping. Equipment proximity devices that are readily available on automobiles are nearly non-existent in the field of mining, as are airbags. At Massey we generated dozens of new safety devices, and the government not only failed to support many of these devices, it stood in the way of them.

Ronald Reagan said "government isn't the solution, it's the problem." This statement can be rightfully applied to MSHA. MSHA isn't the solution to mine safety it is a big part of the problem. MSHA should require that all scrubbers be operated, that ventilation and mining sequences be easy to manage, and that computer technology be used to improve mapping and ventilation.

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