President Obama today ordered a federal safety blitz on coal mines with a history of safety violations, like Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch where 29 miners were killed April 5. He also called for stronger enforcement of current mine safety laws and closing loopholes “that permit companies to shirk their responsibilities.”
Speaking specifically of the West Virginia mine disaster, Obama says:
The people of West Virginia are in our prayers. But we owe them more than prayers. We owe them action. We owe them accountability. We owe them an assurance that when they go to work every day, when they enter that dark mine, they are not alone.
Owners responsible for conditions in the Upper Big Branch mine should be held accountable for decisions they made and preventive measures they failed to take.
The issues surrounding the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine are very troubling, and we need to get to the bottom of what happened there. But we must go further and deal with the larger issue of serial “safety violators like Massey” that must be addressed.
Before addressing reporters in the Rose Garden, Obama met with Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) chief Joe Main and other MSHA officials who briefed the president on the latest in the investigation of the Upper Big Branch blast.
Obama told Solis to work closely with Congress to strengthen existing laws and also to consult with the U.S. Department of Justice “to ensure that every tool in the federal government is available in this investigation.”
The focus on mine safety, says Obama, isn’t “just about a single mine. It’s about all of our mines.”
The safety record at the Massey Upper Big Branch mine was troubling. And it’s clear that while there are many responsible companies, far too many mines aren’t doing enough to protect their workers’ safety.
Yesterday, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, released the list of 48 mines (32 coal mines and 16 other types of mines) identified by MSHA officials in August 2009 for increased scrutiny, but were not targeted due to unresolved appeals filed by mine operators. Upper Big Branch and five other Massey coal mines are on the list.
When a violation is under appeal, it does not count in the formula MSHA uses to initiate the tougher inspections and penalties, including closure of the mine for unsafe conditions. Miller says he released the list because
we owe it to the families of these fallen miners, all mining communities across the country, and the American people to ensure that all relevant information regarding potentially dangerous conditions at mines be made public, especially as investigations into the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine continue. Mine operators who game the system to avoid tough scrutiny by federal safety officials must be held accountable.
Click here for the list.
Obama said one tool to help save lives is the right of miners to refuse to work—without fear of reprisal—in unsafe conditions, even in nonunion mines. Roberts says he “applauds” Obama’s “determination that miners must have the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions.”
UMWA members have that right written into our contracts, but nonunion miners do not have the protection of a contract and are at risk of being fired if they refuse to work in conditions that threaten their lives or their health.
- MSHA Report: Massey Mine Had ‘Significant’ History of Safety Violations
- Massey Mine Cited for 450+ Safety Violations Before Deadly Blast
- Methane, Coal Dust Violations Cited at Massey Mine Before Deadly Blast
- 25 Coal Miners Died, but Massey CEO Calls Mine ‘Safe’
- MSHA to Propose New ‘Pattern of Violations’ Rules for Closing Unsafe Mines