It's sad that it takes a tragedy like Monday's coal mine explosion in Montcoal, W.Va. to call attention to the failures of Massey Energy and its CEO, Don Blankenship. And as news reports in the past days have demonstrated, their transgressions against worker health and safety are numerous.
Today Mike Lillis at Washington Independent reports that 41 other Massey mines have tallied 2,074 safety violations since January. "At the Upper Big Branch — where rescue teams were still searching Wednesday night for four missing miners — investigators had cited 124 similar safety violations this year. More than 50 of them were issued in March alone," writes Lillis.
Ken Ward Jr. at the Charleston Gazette reports that parts or all of the Upper Big Branch Mine were ordered closed more than 60 times in 2009 and 2010. "[T]he mine was repeatedly cited in recent months for allowing potentially explosive coal dust to accumulate," writes Ward, citing newly released government documents. In the past year, inspectors have fined Massey more than $382,000 for safety violations at just that one mine.
President Barack Obama announced today that he is pressing for answers on mine safety, and will meet next week with Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Mine Safety and Health Administrator Joe Main. He called for a report on "the steps that the Federal government should take to improve safety enforcement and prevent future tragedies." It's really unfortunate that it took a disaster of this magnitude to get the kind of attention to the issue, since the red flags have been up at this mine and many other Massey mines for years.
As Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) said in statement this week, miners "deserve … an employer who respects and values their safety."