The Washington Monthlyâs February issue features âShaftedâ byÂ Ken Ward, Jr., an article critiquing the Bush Administrationâs mine safety policies.Â The Charleston Gazette reporter provides some interesting historical mine safety facts, such as the 1891 federal law prohibiting the employment of workers younger than age 12, and offers something new when he juxtaposes the Clinton-era versus Bush-era policies.Â
â[Under Clinton, J. Davitt McAteer] …ordered sweeping inspections that forced mine operators to repair faulty brakes on coal trucks, shore up the mine roofs, and address other widespread problems.âÂ Â In contrast, Bushâs mine safety chief Dave Lauriski âtold the Georgia Mining Association that the agency had taken on too much under McAteer and needed to focus on just a few important itemsâ and told the National Mining Association that MSHA âwould become less confrontational.â
Ward challenges the conventional view promoted by mining industry executives that coal mining is safer and safer every year.
âItâs true that mining deathsâand the death rate per ton of coal minedâdropped during the Lauriski regime.Â But thatâs in large part because most coal is now produced through surface mining in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming.Â â¦A broader look at the evidence suggests [however] that underground coal mining has become substantially more dangerous in recent years.Â Over the past decade, the death rate per 10,000 miners in West Virginia, where a high proportion of miners continue to work underground, has actually increased, from about 1.2 (deaths per 10,000 miners) in 1997 to 3 in 2004.â
âShaftedâ also recaps some of the initiatives removed from MSHAâs regulatory agenda during the Bush-era.Â Ken Ward describes a meeting with mine operators in Hindman, Kentucky where Mr. Lauriski boasted about his scaled-back regulatory agenda:
âIf youâve seen it you noticed that it is quite a bit shorter than some past agendas.Â And if you havenât seen it, all I can say is, trust me, itâs significantly shorter.â
After last yearâs record number of fatalities (47 coal miners killed on the job, and 25 metal and non-metal miners), MSHAâs regulatory agenda has grown with regulations proposed to increase civil penalties and improve mine rescue and communication.Â At next week’s SenateÂ Appropriations SubcommitteeÂ hearing âOne Year after Sago andÂ Almaâ, we’ll get a chance to hear theÂ current mine safety chief, Richard Stickler, report on MSHA’s progress on these important new rules.