Federal authorities issued 21 citations last year for a build-up of combustible materials at the West Virginia mine where 12 men died, according to U.S. Labor Department statistics.
The mining explosion should call attention to the Bush administration’s inadequate enforcement of federal mining safety regulations. Mining safety in the U.S. has improved dramatically since the Mining Safety and Health Act was signed in 1977. By the time that President Clinton signed the International Labor Organization’s Convention 176 concerning safety and health in mines, mining deaths dropped from 425 in 1970 to 85 in 2000.
Phil Smith, the communications director for the United Mine Workers of America, said that while citations have been issued, the fines assessed for safety violations are too small to force large corporations to make improvements. “The problem with the current laws is enforcement.” According to an AFL-CIO analysis, the Bush administration cut 170 positions from federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and has not proposed a single new mine-safety standard or rule during its tenure.
And there’s a reason for that. The Washington Post reported that West Virginia coal firms raised $275,000 for Bush.
Last September, Bush rewarded the coal industry by placing coal industry veteran Richard Stickler in charge of MSHA. Stickler spent about 30 years as a coal company manager with Beth Energy. Mines managed by Stickler were marked by worker injury rates that were double the national average, according to government data cited by the United Mine Workers union.
UPDATE:Confined Space has this interesting analysis:
The fact is that President Bush has not requested budgets for OSHA or MSHA that even keep up with the rate of inflation and mandatory pay increases over the past several years while penalties for OSHA or MSHA violations remain laughably low. The highest penalty of the more than 200 citations received last year by the Sago mine was $878. But that was the exception. Most of the others were $250 or $60. At that rate, it’s hardly a good business decision to even bother fixing anything. And the administration has shut down any new worker protection standards in OSHA and MSHA.