Originally posted on In These Times
In late July, a somber crowd gathered before a long granite wall etched with the rough silhouettes of men standing against jagged mountain peaks. They represented the 29 miners who died in an explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia in 2010. The disaster initially jolted lawmakers to investigate safety conditions in mines, but today, King Coal still rules both in Appalachia and on Capitol Hill.
But some hope to chip away at the industry’s impunity by reforming the lax regulatory system. A new bill, introduced by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), would impose stronger penalties on mine operators that knowingly cause or maintain safety problems like those that at Upper Big Branch. The legislation would also beef up the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) investigative powers.
According to a summary of the bill, companies that violate safety rules would face heavier punishment, including criminal penalties. One provision, which responds to reports that Massey had illegally manipulated its ventilation systems, would impose fines of more than $200,000 for unauthorized ventilation changes, which could “lessen clean air flow in the mines and increase the likelihood of explosions.”
The bill would give MSHA new subpoena power to probe witnesses and other evidence, such as safety records, during investigations. Another measure would explicitly bar companies from “Keeping Two Sets of Books”–a tactic mine operators may use to conceal unsafe conditions from regulators. Read the rest of this entry →