July 31, 2007 The Pump Handle 1Comment

In a post last week entitled Mining Professors Oppose Mine Safety Bill, I invited the signatories of a letter opposing new mine safety legislation to disclose their financial ties to the mining industry (if any) or other related conflicts of interest.  A couple of days later, one of the letter’s signers, Larry Grayson, PhD of Penn State University, responded thoughtfully and thoroughly (here and here) to my post.  I respectfully invite the other signatories to follow Dr. Grayson’s lead and provide their own disclosures.

Professor Grayson, who holds the George H., Jr. and Anne B. Deike Chair in Mining Engineering, said:

“I should address some of the misrepresentations or integrity-related statements made by Ms. Monforton in the initial posting on this topic.  …I am not ashamed that I essentially live paycheck to paycheck at this time in my life, and that fact alone over the years has allowed me to remain independent of decision-making in all positions I have had.  …I have not consulted for a coal company since before I joined NIOSH in 1997.  …This past year I did consult for a company that got approval of its rescue chamber in West Virginia, which basically described my position on using rescue chambers in coal mines. 

I did not intend to impugn the professors’ integrity, and if my writing was interpreted in that way, I apologize.  As I noted in my original post, I believe that disclosures of financial ties or other relationships provide readers (in this case lawmakers, agency officials, miners and their families) additional information to assess for themselves the author(s)’ perspective.  Disclosures such as these should be viewed in a positive light, not something meant as a challenge someone’s integrity. 

Dr. Grayson said, “I have always had the greatest love and admiration for coal miners” and I believe him.  I also appreciate that he took the time to share his views further on this topic. 

Professor Grayson indicated that my interpretation of the letter from the 11 mining engineering professors is “a clear misrepresentation by Ms. Monforton.”  I’ve reviewed his comments carefully and reread the professors’ letter.  They say: 

“…in our opinion, now is not the right time to pursue as much as is proposed in the pending bill”

and I interpreted their letter as not supporting further improvements for miners at this time.  My characterization was based on the tone and full content of the professors’ letter, which is loaded with phrases suggesting that more cannot possibly be done right now.  These include:

  • “more time is needed to address the [MINER Act] provisions”;
  • the industry has “not had adequate time to coordinate and address this next, very important step”;
  • “this inculcation process requires significant time for penetration into the work environment”;
  • the “MINER Act-related work is too great at this time to contemplate further legislation”;
  • “Another option to consider would be to bring together miners, mine operators and other stakeholders in a partnership mode to assess the effectiveness of the MINER Act once it is fully implemented and all required studies are completed.” (emphasis added)

When I read such statements, I can’t help but conclude that they don’t think it’s the right time to pursue more improvements.  (If there are provisions in the pending bills that the professors do support, (because they say “as much as is proposed in the pending bill”) it would be helpful to know which ones.)  I, on the other hand, see it more like Dennis O’Dell, Administrator of Health & Safety for the UMWA.  As Mr. O’Dell reminds us:

the 2006 MINER Act addressed problems that occur after a mine emergency and these bills “will help prevent dangerous situations from happening in the first place.”

These include replacing conveyor belts that don’t meet flame resistance criteria, prohibiting ventilating the working area of a mine with belt air, and protecting miners from exposure to coal mine dust, crystalline silica and asbestos.  (See H.R. 2768 and H.R. 2769 )

My views have also been greatly influenced by my experience working with family members who have lost loved ones in mining and other workplace fatalities.  During numerous meetings with family-member victims of the Sago disaster, for example, the widows, daughters and sons were perplexed when we’d describe the process for adopting new health or safety protections for miners.  Why aren’t there better standards for mine rescue teams, or for fire-bossing, or for communication systems?  They would get frustrated and angry when I’d try to explain that the rulemaking process took time—sometimes 3, 5 or 10 years to get a new standard in place.  To them, these answers were just unacceptable.  They didn’t think miners (or the family members left behind because of workplace fatalities) should have to put up with such a unresponsive and unprotective system.  The more I listened, the more I realized, they were correct.   A number of the provisions in H.R. 2768 and H.R. 2769 address long-standing hazards that have not been taken care of by MSHA through the rulemaking process.  Miners deserve these protections now.

One thought on “One Mining Professor Responds

  1. Celeste,

    You are right on when you say the rulemaking process takes up to 3, 5 or 10 years and that is unacceptable. It is very unacceptable to families who’s loved one has died because of no enforcement or rules that should have been there to protect them.

    I am the wife of an underground coal miner and I know first hand how the coal company treats their employees. My husband was injured in Oct. 2004 and only received 2 checks. He wasn’t able to return to work so he had no choice but to retire to be able to pay our bills and eat. He also has a co-worker that was injured since and he’s going through the same fight. Something they shouldn’t have to fight for that is rightfully theirs.
    If the coal company execs had to worry about paying bills or eating I’m sure they would understand. But then again I don’t guess they’ll get a serious injury sitting behind a desk discussing with their attorneys how to screw the working men out of their workers compensation and safety.

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