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Tragedy in West Virginia | The Nation

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Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and high-stakes testing.

Tragedy in West Virginia

Twenty-five miners were killed and another four are missing after an explosion took place yesterday afternoon at Massey subsidiary Performance Coal Co.'s Upper Big Branch Mine-South between the towns of Montcoal and Naoma in West Virginia.

The cause of the explosion, which set off what's being called the worse mining disaster in 40 years, is still unknown, but safety officials say the mine owned by Massey Energy Co. has been cited in the past for failing to properly vent methane. In fact, Massey’s mine in Montcoal has been cited for over 3,000 violations, more than $2.2 million in fines, writes Brad Johnson in Grist. Three people have died since 1998 in accidents at the mine, which produced 1.2 million tons of coal last year.

Although the company says that its safety record is better than the industry average, according to the Washington Post, Massey has frequently been cited for safety violations, including about 50 citations at the Upper Big Branch mine in March alone. Many of those citations were for poor ventilation of dust and methane, failure to maintain proper escape ways, and the accumulation of combustible materials. (Massey, of course, has become infamous for its devastating mountaintop removal operations.)

The US Mine Safety and Health Administration cited the mine for 1,342 safety violations from 2005 through Monday for a total of $1.89 million in proposed fines, according to federal records. The company has contested 422 of those violations, totaling $742,830 in proposed penalties, according to federal officials. Massey Energy is actively contesting millions of dollars of fines for safety violations at its West Virginia coal mine where disaster struck yesterday afternoon.

Massey's CEO, Don Blankenship, has long been a vocal adversary of environmentalists and organized labor, and, yes, regulatory control over safety standards in mines. At this point, we don't know enough to say what happened and why. It's impossible to conduct massive mining operations without risk to human life. But Massey's record of gross safety violations gives serious pause and should, after yesterday's disaster, occasion an immediate Congressional inquiry into how Massey is conducting its operations.

In the meantime, rescue and relief operations are already on the scene. The Huffington Post pulled together a few good resources.

** The Salvation Army responded rapidly, supplying food and water to family of the victims and to the more than 150 rescue workers. You can make an area-specific donation to the Salvation Army or, if you live in the area, make an in-kind donation through the email address provided on this page. ** The United Mine Workers of America pledged support for rescue workers and victims' families following the mine explosion.

** Restaurants and craft shops in Whitesville, West Virginia are preparing food to serve to rescue workers. They are doing what they can, but will gratefully accept donations for their relief work. Make checks payable to Nuttin' Fancy, P.O. Box 452, Whitesville, WV 25209.

I'm looking for more relief efforts now. If you know of others funds or organizations providing money or aid for the victims' families, or any groups doing good anti-Massey organizing, please let me know in the comments field below.

 


 

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