After two miners were killed at the Equality Boot Mine near Centertown, Kentucky in October, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) issued a statement calling for a thorough investigation into the cause of the tragedy. “Mine safety is of paramount importance,” Beshear said. “Investigative teams will begin work immediately to determine the cause of this accident and whether there are any steps that can be taken to ensure such an accident does not occur again.”
Less than three months later, the “paramount importance” of mine safety seems to have disappeared. When Beshear unveiled his two-year budget proposal last week, the agency that oversees mine safety was slapped with a 4.2 percent budget cut, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. Though the cut is smaller than those faced by other state agencies, the budget for the mine permitting agency, tasked with approving new mining sites (including those used for mountaintop removal), went untouched.
Mine safety, and the enforcement of mine safety regulations, has repeatedly taken a backseat to expanded mining under Beshear, despite repeated accidents in Kentucky mines that had been cited for safety violations. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) cited Armstrong Coal, the operator of the Equality Boot Mine, with 15 safety violations between its 2010 opening and the October deaths. In 16 months preceding a deadly accident at the Dotiki Mine in Providence, Kentucky, MSHA issued 840 safety violations to its operator, Alliance Resource Partners.
Days after the Dotiki Mine disaster, Beshear appeared at the opening of another Alliance-owned mine and made no mention of mine safety. In 2011, Beshear appointed one of Alliance’s top safety officials to the Kentucky Mining Board, even though at least nine miners have died at Alliance-owned mines since 2005.
During his 2011 re-election campaign, Beshear took more than half a million dollars in campaign contributions from the coal industry, begging the question ThinkProgress has asked of his state’s elected officials before: Is Beshear putting the interests of his Big Coal campaign contributors ahead of actual human lives?