Royally Kranked

Thursday, March 23, 2006

For the mining industry, nothing says safety more than tax breaks & lobbying against laws which mandate changes to protect miners from deadly disasters like that which recently afflicted the Sago mine in West Virginia

Two articles are examined here, and both will be annotated, KR for the Knight Ridder Article, TH for The Hill article

And for the search results of the now archived KR article

Under Bush, mine-safety enforcement eased-KR

And

Mining industry poised to win tax breaks on safety measures-TH

After fatal mining accidents this year, the mining industry is on the verge of winning tax breaks to help pay for new safety technologies as it lobbies against government-imposed safety requirements.

Michael Peelish, a senior vice president for safety and human resources at Foundation Coal Corp., told a Senate panel earlier this month that tax breaks would help companies invest in new equipment and training for enhanced mine safety and rescue capabilities.(TH)

Nice, so for the mining industry, the only way to protect minors is NOT by tougher workplace-safety regulations, but by getting tax breaks to do the right thing

Of course, it's not like this Administration had been cracking down hard on the more flagrant abuses in the mining industry to begin with

Since the Bush administration took office in 2001, it has been more lenient than its predecessors toward mining companies facing serious safety violations, issuing fewer and smaller major fines and collecting less than half of the money that violators owed, a Knight Ridder investigation has found.

At one point last year, the Mine Safety and Health Administration fined a coal company $440 for a "significant and substantial" violation that ended in the death of a Kentucky man. The firm, International Coal Group Inc., is the same company that owns the Sago mine in West Virginia, where 12 workers died last week.

The $440 fine remains unpaid.(KR)

For this Administration, life is definitely cheap, but maybe I'm being too harsh, and that the Administration will get around to collecting that still-unpaid $44o fine before the next President's 2009 inauguration

So, of course, the way to beef up oversight is NOT heavier fines or tougher enforcement to ensure the industry is doing right by the very people who make all that money for the owners, the employees

Instead, tax breaks are pushed as the ticket to keep miners safe

There appears to be bipartisan support for the tax breaks, which were included in the Senate tax package now being negotiated with House tax writers, who did not include similar breaks in their budget reconciliation bill. The breaks include a 50 percent tax credit to buy and install communications systems and safety equipment, and a 20 percent credit for the cost of training rescue teams.....Mining executives have lobbied against bills introduced by Rep. Nick Rahall in the House and Sen. Robert Byrd in the Senate, both West Virginia Democrats. The measures would direct the Labor Department to adopt new regulations to require each coal mine to maintain at “strategic locations” sufficient supplies of air and self-contained breathing equipment, provide a means of communicating with people on the surface and ensure that each miner has a tracking device to improve the chances that rescuers will be able to find them.(TH)

Heaven forfend that the good times stop rolling for this Administration's oversight of the mining industry, as safety upgrades & requirements cost money, and Lord knows, we wouldn't want those poor, put-upon mine owners to suffer financially or legally in the least

Thankfully for the mining industry, its CEOs & Boards of Directors, this Administration's got their back

The number of major fines over $10,000 has dropped by nearly 10 percent since 2001. The dollar amount of those penalties, when adjusted for inflation, has plummeted 43 percent to a median of $27,584.

Fewer than half of the fines levied between 2001 and 2003 - about $3 million - have been paid.

The budget and staff for the enforcement office also have declined, forcing the agency to make do with about 100 fewer coal-mine-enforcement personnel, a cut of about 9 percent.

In serious criminal cases, the number of guilty pleas and convictions have fallen 54.8 percent since 2001. In the first four years of the Bush administration, the federal government averaged 3.5 criminal convictions a year; in the four years before that, the average was 7.75 per year.(KR)

Yep, nothing shows the Administration's commitment to safety issues like cutting fines and reducing prosecutions against corner-cutting CEO's

Thank God there's an industry backed "Set Of Principles" to set us whiney, workers rights advocates straight, I mean, what ARE we thinking in demanding tougher fines & sharper legal oversight of the mining industry?

In response to accidents at the Sago and Alma mines, which left 14 West Virginia miners dead, and the subsequent push in Congress to adopt new regulations, the mining industry has adopted a “set of principles” that it carried to dozens of Capitol Hill offices during two days of lobbying visits two weeks ago. The National Mining Association has also formed a commission of industry experts to review safety technologies and training. It is expected to release a draft report this July.(TH)

And that's a message the mining industry felt needed lots of word-of-mouth to achieve

In the meantime, a dozen industry executives were scheduled to visit nearly 80 offices of members with oversight responsibilities during a March 7-8 fly-in.(TH)

But lets look at this from the Mine Safety and Helath Administration, no doubt a vociferous advocate of the miners they represent

The mine-safety agency touts on its Web site statistics showing the agency's "overall record of increased enforcement against mine operators during this Administration."

Those statistics show that in 2005, the agency issued 4 percent more violation notices for all mines than it did in 2000 and that the number of coal-mine violations issued increased by 18 percent. The agency also touted a 13 percent increase in "significant and substantial" violations.(KR)

Well, I'm convinced, there's no doubt the MSHA is one the job and on it's toes

Or maybe not

But those numbers hide the fact that most of the fines were so small that they were meaningless to big mining companies, said Dennis O'Dell, a health and safety administrator for the United Mine Workers of America union.

"It's not enough to scare the companies to take care of business," O'Dell said. "A $55 fine for a coal company means nothing when they're making millions upon millions of dollars."(KR)

And thankfully, the mining industry knows just how to overcome that lack of stringent enforcement on the part of the MSHA-free the mining industry from legal actions and drug-test the miners

The industry wants Congress to provide liability shields for mine rescue teams. It would also like an OK to require drug testing of miners and supports the tax breaks.(TH)

And an even bigger "Thank God" for the mining industry referring to Rahall's proposal as nothing more than a flight of fancy on the part of misguided anti-capitalists

The Rahall bill, in contrast, is more “wish fulfillment than a realistic assessment of what is required to make mines safer,” said National Mining Association spokesman Luke Popovich.(TH)

Absolutely, why the very idea that more stringently-enforced laws might make mines safer is laughably absurd.

As best shown by this example of fines not being an accurate indicator-according to the mining industry anyways

Earnie Williams, 65, was killed when a chunk of frozen coal slurry rocketed out of a clogged pipe, ricocheted and hit him in the head. The company, ICG, was faulted for not having procedures for unclogging frozen pipes and was fined $440.

"The $440 fine charged to the company is a ridiculous figure to compare to someone's life or to deter the company from future unsafe practices," Williams' daughter, Karla Smith of Hindman, Ky., wrote in an e-mail to Knight Ridder. "How does anyone expect ICG to correct hazardous and potentially deadly practices when a pocket-change fine is issued after such an occurrence?"(KR)

And far be it from us lowly workers rights peons to think that this Administration-the most big-business friendly and consumer/employee unfriendly group in the White House since the age of the Robber Barons-had anything to do with the drop in fines & legal actions, after all, who are you going to believe, the mining industry or your lyin' eyes?

David Gooch, president of Coal Operators and Associates in Pikeville, Ky., which has 200 members, said the size of the fines had nothing to do with who was in power in Washington.

"It doesn't have anything to do with who's the president because, actually, the people who are doing those fines are apolitical," Gooch said. "They're employees that are covered by the federal civil service, and their own union, by the way, so they compute the fines the way they come out."

Mining industry officials defended the Bush administration and pointed to recent years of record low deaths and injuries in mining as the most important numbers.

For coal mining, 2005 and 2002 were record low years for fatalities. Twenty-two people were killed last year in coal-mining incidents - down from 47 in 1995. There were 27 fatalities in 2002. The number of workers killed in all mines hit consecutive record lows of 56 and 55 in 2003 and 2004, respectively, but increased slightly to 57 in 2005.

"Within the last five years, the number of fatalities have been cut in half," said National Mining Association spokeswoman Carol Raulston. "From our perspective, that's where we ought to be focused. It is what is happening to the absolute number of injuries - and the rate of injuries - that has gone down. Mining is no longer the most dangerous industry in the United States."(KR)

Of course that's where attention should be focused, and why would anyone think tougher laws & higher fines have ANYTHING to do with miners safety in the least is a puzzle I can't quite comprehend

Tony Oppegard, a Lexington, Ky., lawyer who was a top mine-safety agency official during the Clinton administration and later general counsel for the Kentucky Department of Mines and Minerals, said there were problems with that philosophy.

"The philosophy is all coal operators are good guys and if you just tell them what to do, they'll be more than willing to do it and they'll do a good job," he said. "We know from history that's not true. Not all coal operators are good guys. There are some outlaws out there. And when you have an outlaw operator, you need to use your enforcement tools."

In 2001, the mine-safety agency had 1,181 coal-mine-enforcement workers. This year, the agency had about 1,080. And President Bush has proposed a further cut to 1,043 in the current fiscal budget.

Cutbacks in enforcement officials mean that specialists who could concentrate on the most pressing safety issues - ventilation and roof cave-ins - have been pressed into service for the routine and mandatory inspections, former officials say.(KR)

And the whining from those concerned with miner safety doesn't end with the above, check out this gem

An even bigger worry, McAteer noted, is the lack of timely follow-up inspections. The problem was highlighted by a 2003 Government Accountability Office study that found that 48 percent of all citations - including the most serious ones - were not followed up by the mandated deadline.

"It is a very severe problem," McAteer said. "In human terms, if you don't follow that up, you can send all the enforcement people you want... . There's less incentive to fix" the problem.(KR)

I mean, really, what's next, demands for better communications and refuge areas where miners could gather in the event of a disaster?

Well, ummm, yeah

Two-way communications that can provide uninterruptible service at all mine depths are not available, Popovich said. And the industry fears the legislation could lead to the requirement that “refuges” where miners could retreat in an emergency to await rescue be constructed. Such refuges are impractical in coal mines with relatively narrow seams, the veins of coal that miners ply, Popovich said.

The bills would require the Labor Department to review the efficacy of refuge chambers but would not require their construction. They would require some sort of two-way communications be installed in the mine. Such systems would make it easier for rescue teams to find trapped miners.

The House source said that at a minimum mine operators should be required to provide their workers with one-way communications links to the surface. A study by the Mine Safety and Health Administration found such systems to be 90 percent effective. Miners could at least be told which way to head to escape a fire, for example, if they had a one-way communications system linking them to the surface, the House source said.(TH)

What, only 90% effective, then what's the point of these onerous regulations since there's not going to be a 100% success rate?

I mean really, talk about regulations that tie the mining industry's clean, pure hands behind its righteous back when it comes to deciding the best way to keep it's moneymaking employees-the miners-safe

To avoid onerous new regulations, the industry has pointed out that the number of fatalities each year from mining has dropped 90 percent from 1970 even as production has increased 80 percent.

But critics note that the number of miners who have died in the first two months of 2006 is more than half the number of miners who died in all of 2005, a record year in terms of fewest mining deaths.(TH)

Damn, there the miner-safety advocates go again, introducing facts into this issue, why the very nerve!!!

Thankfully, from the industry's point of view, it's considered more important for the MSHA to play nice with the mine owners, than it is to hold them accountable for their lack of actions in making the mines safer places to work, especially since there's a growing demand for what the mining industry produces

The industry and the regulatory body in charge of overseeing it have become complacent, the House source said. That’s especially dangerous now that coal use is again rising, the source said, adding, however, that the Rahall bill faces an uphill battle in the House.(TH)

Of course, even if the Dems take back the House in the November elections, it's a toss up as to whether the legislation would have an easier time passing, seeing as how so many of the Dems seem to lack a spine & heart to fight

But the mine owners can't be sure that lack of backbone would continue if the dems get control of the House, and it's a bet they're not willing to make, not when the paychecks of CEOs and Boards of Directors could get cut in the rush to legislate and implement improved communications and safe areas inside the mines themselves to give the miners a better shot at survival

In other words, the politicians need to hear from the people, and they need to get pushed-HARD-to pass these much needed laws, increase fines and much more aggressively prosecute the scofflaws who all too often run this industry

Start holding companies more accountable with heavy fines and increased jail time for wayward CEOs & Boards of Directors, and watch how quick the problems clear up

The dead miners deserve no less to honor their memories & lives, they made money for their industry, and they died for that same industry's profits

Their lives should mean much more than kowtowing and kissing up to the same industry greed which got them killed

1 Comments:

  • Hi There,

    My name is Karen Shacham and I work with CNN Pipeline in Atlanta.

    I thought you might be interested to know that President Bush will sign the Miners Act, a bill that would require mine operators to put more oxygen supplies underground and move rescue teams closer to mines at 1120am ET LIVE on CNN Pipeline.

    CNN Pipeline is an online, commercial-free multiple live-news feed. It showcases four simultaneous news feeds from around the world and an On Demand function that allows you to select from a variety of news stories.

    You can check it out at http://www.cnn.com by clicking the CNN Pipeline link to get a two week free trial.

    Thanks a lot,
    Karen

    By Blogger Karen Shacham, at 7:10 AM  

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