[oldembed src="https://www.democracynow.org/embed_show_v2/400/2011/5/23/story/massey_energy_guilty_west_virginia_probe" fid="13"]
I'm not sure how many more of these miners have to die before someone from Massey Energy finally goes to jail, but it's been over a year now and no one's been prosecuted yet.
An independent state probe in West Virginia concludes that mining giant, Massey Energy, was responsible for the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 underground coal mining workers. It echoes preliminary findings by federal investigators earlier this year that Massey repeatedly violated federal rules on ventilation and minimizing coal dust to reduce the risk of explosion, and rejects Massey’s claim that a burst of gas from a hole in the mine floor was at fault. The report also notes Massey’s strong political influence, which it uses "to attempt to control West Virginia’s political system" and regulatory bodies. We speak with J. Davitt McAteer, who oversaw the probe and is a former top federal mine safety official. [...]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Davitt McAteer, lead author of the Massey report. He’s joining us from his home in West Virginia. I hope you will bear with the problems with the sound. You say miners didn’t have air and that Massey didn’t care. Explain.
J. DAVITT McATEER: When we interviewed some 220 miners after the ignition, after the explosion, as part of the investigation, repeatedly the miners said, "We don’t have enough air coming to us in the mine." Now, remember, the mine is divided into three, four, five sections, so that miners in various sections would, from day to day, have problems with the ventilation, and it would be very hot and would be very difficult to work. The ventilation system was not kept up properly. The ventilation system was not maintained properly. Some of the courses of the air were not sent to the miners’ locations on a regular basis. And there were changes made, on an ad hoc basis, on a daily basis, by foremen in order to try to get air to those individuals. What this means is that the air is not in a steady, constant prevention method and that the mine—sections of the mine can have methane buildup when in fact the air isn’t coursing through like it should.
In addition, over the Easter weekend that preceded this explosion, there was a problem with some of the pumps on the surface, and water built up in the back end of the mine. That water buildup will, in effect, negatively impact the ventilation system. It’ll indeed block the ventilation system, so that the ventilation system becomes less effective. Those two factors, we believe, were involved in the day of the explosion.
AMY GOODMAN: You report, Davitt McAteer, that most of the coal miners who were killed, the 29, who varied in age from 25 to 61 years old, had black lung disease. Explain what that is and the significance of this.
J. DAVITT McATEER: Black lung disease is a disease that coal miners have suffered for centuries. And it is essentially the inhalation of submicron particles of dust that adhere to the lungs and create an inability of the lungs to exchange oxygen. It occurs in miners who are exposed to levels of coal dust that are above the standard level, 2.0 milligrams per cubic meter.
And it occurs in these—in this instance, we found, in this group of miners, some 26 of the miners had some sign of black lung, and that is an astounding number, when you consider that as a general matter, in the population of the country as a whole, it’s three percent, and in the population in West Virginia, it’s roughly six-and-a-half or seven percent. We were shocked by this finding and shocked by the age of the miners who had it. These are quite young miners, and these are some miners who don’t have much experience underground. So it was disturbing to us, and it is disturbing to us, that we have this potential problem, and it’s something that we need to look at very carefully. [...]
AMY GOODMAN: More than a year after the 29 men died at Massey, at Upper Big Branch Mine, there is strong evidence that Massey has not changed the manner in which it runs these mines. On April 29th, 2011, after receiving tips on its hotline, MSHA, the Mining Safety Health Administration, conducted an impact inspection and found 20 instances of aggravated misconduct at Massey subsidiary Inman Energy’s Randolph coal mine in Boone County, West Virginia. During the safety blitz, the agency issued 20 withdrawal notices, five citations. Eleven orders had to do with violations of the ventilation plan at the mine. The inspectors found the company was illegally operating two sets of mining equipment simultaneously and cutting, mining and loading coal from the same section. What is the significance of this, and how dangerous is this in the continuation of how Massey operates?
J. DAVITT McATEER: The Randolph mine is just a few miles from the Upper Big Branch Mine. All of those miners and all of those supervisory people are well aware of what happened at the Upper Big Branch Mine. The fact that we continue to have problems is shocking, in that there has not been a message sent by the management of Massey Energy to its people to say it is absolutely critical that we put safety in the first position. And that failure to make a change seems to me to suggest that we have not learned a lesson that we have to learn, if we are to mine coal safely in this country. It was really disturbing for us working on the report to see the Randolph mine up the road have the same kinds of problems and similar serious problems to what preceded the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you want to happen to your report, Davitt McAteer? Where should this go? And do you think that, based on what you found, which is clearly, in this 120-page report, gross negligence, there should be criminal prosecutions?
J. DAVITT McATEER: That’s the decision of a U.S. attorney, and I believe they’re aggressively pursuing that.
The second aspect that we are interested in is to see that there be some legislation on a federal level and on a state level to address the shortcomings that we point out in the report, one of which, for example, is the fact that we don’t have responsibility in the boardroom for safety and health. We have responsibility in the boardroom for economics and for finance, but we don’t have responsibility in the board of this company or the other companies for safety and health, and that needs to change.
Secondly, we need to introduce new technologies into the mining system. We’re still scratching on pieces of paper problematic signs that occur underground. We don’t have, for example, black boxes on any of the mining equipment to provide us with information after a disaster happens as to what went on. And so, we need to make those changes.
Secondly, we need to make a change at the regulatory agency, and that change needs to be to strengthen the regulations dealing with coal dust, dealing with rock dust, and dealing with ventilation.
Third, the industry itself has to make the changes. The industry, the mining industry in this country, if they’re going to continue to operate, have to be operating in a safer manner. We know how to do it. We have done it, and companies do it day in and day out. But companies also disregard the mine safety laws. The industry itself has to police itself and get itself—get its house in order, so that we don’t have, in the 21st century, the death of 29 miners in one fell swoop. Read on...