A Mine Safety Crusader's Lonely Battle
In Anderson Cooper's CNN reports of the horror and grief following the deaths of 25 miners at Massey's Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, the anchor turned to Davitt McAteer to explain what was going on. For more than 30 years, McAteer has been there through one coal mine disaster after another, pleading for reform.
The key questions in the Massey tragedy are the same as those that were asked following the deaths of 13 miners in Sago, West Virginia, in 2006. Following that incident, many questioned why the federal government would not mount an aggressive drive to enforce safety regulations in the nation's mines. Neither the Bush administration nor Congress showed any serious willingness to tackle this problem head on. All that came out of the investigations was passage of the Miner Act, which required mines to set up secure areas where trapped workers could seal themselves off with enough food and water to last 4 days, in the hope that rescuers could reach them in that time. The law also mandated a communications system that tracked the whereabouts of trapped miners. Only 8 percent of US mines have installed such a system in the 4 years since the law was passed, McAteer told me.