Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Canada Shows What Works

Over seventy miners trapped in a Canadian potash mine managed to survive for 30 hours until rescue workers finally reached them. The most probable reason they survived was that the mine had several "safe rooms" they could escape to and caches of extra oxygen located throughout the mine. The story shows what happens when mining companies are forced by regulations to consider miners' lives as important as corporate bottom lines.

During the month of January, fourteen American miners weren't so lucky. In the first of the two American mine disasters, the company involved (Sago Coal) had been cited multiple times for failure to abide by regulations, but the company had not been shut down, nor had their been any real attempt by the Mining and Safety Agency (MSHA)to collect the fines for the transgressions. The governor of West Virginia, the location of both American mining accidents (Sago and Alma)has made it a point to publicize the tragedy and to initiate his own investigation. Congress has set hearings. Today we learn from the Washington Post that MSHA is considering "new" mining regulations.

After one of the deadliest months for coal mining in years, federal mine regulators last week began formally considering safety improvements to help miners survive underground fires and explosions. Among the proposals: mandatory caches of oxygen tanks and breathing masks inside every coal mine.

The idea may have struck some miners as familiar, because it was. A similar proposal was put forward by the same regulators six years ago, only to be scrapped by the Bush administration shortly after it took office.. And the oxygen caches were not the only proposed safety improvement to be withdrawn.

In all, the Bush administration abandoned or delayed implementation of 18 proposed safety rules that were in the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration's regulatory pipeline in early 2001, a review of agency records shows. At least two of the dropped proposals have now been resurrected in the aftermath of deadly accidents at the Sago and Alma mines in West Virginia.

...The committee's Democratic staff, in a report set for release today, cites the scrapping of proposed safety rules as a hallmark of an agency that has openly advocated a more cooperative approach to enforcement under President Bush. The report documents substantial cuts in the agency's workforce -- including a 9 percent reduction in the number of coal-mining enforcement personnel -- and sharp reductions in the number of criminal prosecutions and major fines. The report also notes the influx of former mining industry executives to MSHA's management and advisory boards during the Bush administration. Of the four members of the agency's Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission -- a panel that settles disputes involving the federal Mine Act -- three are former top executives of mining companies or trade associations.
[Emphasis added]

BushCo is now famous, even infamous, for its political appointments. Hurrican Katrina showed us cronyism at its worst with the appointment of Michael Brown to head FEMA, a job he had absolutely no experience in and no competence for. In this case, however, we see more than cronyism: we see outright pandering. The result? Fourteen deaths added to the Emperor's horrific legacy.

Way to go, George.


Anonymous kidsis said...

this is just one more example of why I wish Canada was south of the border instead of north! In the late sixties, early seventies, I considered moving to Canada in response to my significant other having the draft number of "4". As mother of a sick child in the early eighties, I considered moving to Canada because of socialized medicine... I think of moving to Canada today, but am too spoiled by the sunshine and heat of Arizona! Oh to be more strong in my convictions!!!

4:04 PM  

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