Wednesday, January 27, 2021
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Stop Blaming Mine Explosions on Explosive Mine Safety Violations!

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No, really. That's what Virginia conservative bloggers are actually saying today. Watching them try to deflect attention away from the West Virginia mine explosion tragedy's cause is like watching the wedding scene from Monty Python & the Holy Grail. Let's not bicker & argue about who killed who!

Why should we rush to judgment that there could've been wrongdoing involved? Just because the mine that blew up was cited for safety violations for this exact problem just last month?

A huge underground explosion blamed on methane gas killed 25 coal miners in the worst U.S. mining disaster in more than two decades. [...]

The mine, about 30 miles south of Charleston, has a significant history of safety violations, including 57 infractions just last month for (among other things) not properly ventilating the highly combustible methane.

And because that same mine has had over 3,000 safety violations & over $2.2 million in fines? And because Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has explicitly told his underground mine superintendents that production trumps safety?

Coal mining is a dirty, deadly business. To pretend otherwise is to approach "Heckuva Job Brownie" territory.

Cooch Hearts Massey Energy and Its Deadly Coal Mines

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Early today, there was a terrible tragedy at a coal mine in West Virginia. Our hearts go out to all the victims, as well as to their families, friends and coworkers, in what's being called "the worst U.S. mine disaster since 1984."

In addition to sadness, this explosion should also make you angry. The fact is, this mine had "a history of violations for not properly ventilating highly combustible methane gas, safety officials said."  Why was that situation never dealt with adequately?

For a possible answer to that question [NOTE: see update #3 below], see NLS, which points out that: 1) Massey Energy is based in Richmond; 2) Massey's Knox Creek site in Tazewell County "was one of ten sites in the country to be cited for major health and safety violations last October"; 3) our fine Attorney General is not only NOT cracking down on Massey, he "is actually working with Massey Energy on his lawsuit against the EPA;" and 4) Massey hearts Virginia Republicans, having donated $61,000 to Virginia Republicans in 2009 ("and $0 to the Dems"), not to mention $441,463 to Virginia Republicans since 1997 (just $8,250 to Democrats), including $40,000 to Bob McDonnell for Governor and $10,000 to Ken Cuccinelli for Attorney General.

So, as NLS concludes:

Now Ken Cuccinelli has a choice to make. Will he open up an investigation and ensure that the Massey mining site in Tazewell that has had so many violations of health and safety will comply with the law and ensure its workers safety?  Or is he going to ignore safety warnings even after yesterday's tragedy and hope by 2013 that Massey continues to reward him with large political contributions for his efforts to help in their legal actions against the EPA?

We're waiting for an answer Mr. Attorney General.

Yes, we are waiting for an answer, but don't expect one anytime soon. The fact is, Ken Cuccinelli and others in Virginia government - overwhelmingly Republican - are deeply in the pocket of Massey Energy and Don Blankenship, far more concerned with doing their bidding than in protecting workers, the environment, etc.

More broadly, the question is why, in the year 2010, we are still stuck in a 19th century energy economy (coal and other fossil fuels) instead of a 21st century one (energy efficiency, wind, solar, geothermal, etc.)? Also, why do we let scumbags like Massey Chairman/CEO Don Blankenship get away with murder - repeated, serious safety violations leading to the deaths of miners?  On both of those questions, there's a very simple answer: follow the money...

UPDATE: SatirclAlxndria tweets, "WVA mine accident, 25 dead & @KenCuccinelli waxing rhapsodic about Roanoke sunrise & press interviews!"

UPDATE #2: Daily Kos has more on Don Blankenship and the politicians he gives $$$ to.

UPDATE #3: Just to be clear, let me just state that there is absolutely no evidence Ken Cuccinelli caused or contributed to the terrible tragedy in West Virginia. What I'm saying is that Cuccinelli (and Virginia Republicans more broadly) receives large sums of money from Richmond-based Massey, that this is not a good thing, and that Cooch should be focused on cracking down against safety violations in Virginia before we have a mine disaster here as well. Cooch also needs to stop doing the anti-worker, anti-environment bidding of companies like Massey.

UPDATE #4: It's also worth noting that Virginia's two previous AG's, Jerry Kilgore (2002-2005) and Bob McDonnell (2006-2009), apparently did nothing to rein in out-of-control Massey Energy on worker safety, the environment, or anything else. Neither did Mark Earley (1998-2001) or Jim Gilmore (1994-1997).  

The Beginning Of The End For Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining?

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Could the ruinous (environmentally, economically, you name it) practice of "mountaintop removal" coal mining be coming to an end sooner rather than later?  Based on this, it sure looks like a possibility.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced new pollution limits that could sharply curtail "mountaintop" mining, the lucrative and controversial practice that is unique to Appalachia.

The decision, announced Thursday afternoon by EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, is expected to end or significantly cut the use of "valley fills." At these sites, mining companies fill valleys to the brim with rock and rubble left over when peaks are sheared off to reach coal seams inside.

"Minimizing the number of valley fills is a very, very key factor," Jackson said. "You're talking about no, or very few, valley fills that are going to meet this standard."

Of course, without "valley fills," it's going to be pretty difficult to blow the top off a mountain and figure out what to do with the resulting debris. Over at Gristmill, they quote "95-year-old Ken Hechler, the former West Virginia congressman who introduced the first bill in Congress to stop mountaintop removal and strip-mining in 1971," calling this "a great victory for the Clean Water Act and justice."  

Maybe, but as J.W. Randolph of Appalachian Voices points out, we still need "Congress to follow the Obama administration's lead by passing legislation that will permanently protect our homes and communities from mining waste...Change in Appalachia is now inevitable, and the time for Congress to pass this legislation is now!"

By the way, for anyone who argues about the supposed economic importance of mountaintop removal mining, I strongly recommend that they read this letter, by Justin Maxson,  president of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development.  As Maxson points out, "coal mining jobs amount to only about 2 percent of employment in the central Appalachian region; the percentage is only slightly higher if you consider related employment."  The problem with "mountaintop removal" mining, of course, is that it's a highly capital-intensive (explosives, heavy machinery), not labor-intensive (miners) process. The other problem is the nature of the coal industry, which Jim Webb explains extremely well in Born Fighting.

The people from the outside showed up [in Appalachian coal country] with complicated contracts...asking for "rights" to mineral deposits they could not see, and soon they were treated to a sundering of their own earth as the mining companies ripped apart their way of life, so that after a time the only option was to go down into the hole and bring the Man his coal, or starve. The Man got his coal, and the profits it brought when he shipped it out. They got their wages, black lung, and the desecration of their land...Coal made this part of Appalachia a poverty-stricken basket case while the rest of the mountain region remained mired in isolation.
That pretty much sums it up.

Video: Why China Is Winning the Clean Energy Race

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By the way, the World Meteorological Organization just issued a report  which "found that 2009 was the fifth warmest year on record 'since the beginning of of instrumental climate records around 1850.'" But no, the world's not getting warmer or anything. Hey, it snowed last winter! (snark)