April 26, 2010
How can we fail them? How can a nation that relies on its miners not do everything in its power to protect them? How can we let anyone in this country put their lives at risk by simply showing up to work; by simply pursuing the American Dream?

- President Barack Obama, 4/25/2010

With those words, President Obama delivered a promise to the surviving families of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion: Your loved ones won't have died for nothing.

And with those words, the Massey Energy board of directors closed their ranks around teabagger Don Blankenship, beginning their own PR campaign to keep the government small, out of their mines, and out of their profit margins.

In a news conference in Charleston, company officials also pointed a finger back at the federal regulators who had repeatedly cited them for safety violations before an explosion killed 29 miners at Upper Big Branch on April 5.

They said that the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration had indirectly caused a reduction of fresh air getting to an area deep inside the mine by requiring the company to use a "complicated" ventilation plan that Massey engineers resisted.

Ventilation will be a critical issue in the investigation into the explosion. Experts believe that the blast may have been triggered by a buildup of gases such as methane, or flammable coal dust, inside the mine.

Mine ventilation systems are designed to take toxic or explosive materials out and bring fresh air in for miners to breathe.

The Massey officials, including chief executive Don Blankenship, said they still did not know what triggered the explosion. They released new data showing that, in the minutes before the blast, foremen deep inside the mine had reported finding very low or nonexistent levels of methane.

I'm still struggling to understand the logic they twisted to blame regulations on mine ventilation into a cause for methane buildup. More from their press conference:

On the dispute with federal regulators over regulation, the company said that MSHA inspectors had demanded changes "that made the ventilation in this area significantly more complex." As a result, "the volume of fresh air [getting to the area where coal was being mined] . . . was significantly reduced."

The company said that its engineers resisted making the changes, and even shut down production at the mine for two days, before eventually agreeing.

But when a reporter pressed Suboleski for details about the dispute, he demurred.

"I'm going to get us mired down in things," he said, adding that it would be easier to explain with a map of the mine, and more time. "It did make ventilation more complex . . . in some ways more difficult." (read more...)

And so it begins. There will be spin, counterspin, assaults on the union and assaults on our common sense. Is it any wonder that West Virginians don't place much hope in the idea that safety reforms will actually happen?

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