Entry for January 15, 2006

The above chart is from the January 4, 2006 issue of USA Today.  Even Molly Ivins weighed in by January 12:

Some of the press is starting to get the drill. Give us something like the West Virginia coal mine disaster, and instead of standing around emoting like Geraldo Rivera, a few reporters have enough sense to ask the obvious question: What is this mine’s safety record? And when it turns out to be abysmal, a few more reporters have enough sense to ask: Who’s in charge of doing something after a mine gets 205 safety violations in one year? Where’s the Mine Safety and Health Administration? Who runs it? What’s their background — are they professionals or mining industry stooges? Who’s the Michael “Heckuvajob” Brown in this outfit? Why are so many jobs at MSHA just left completely unfilled? How much has MSHA’s budget been cut since 2001 to pay for tax cuts for the rich?

The problem, though, is that it takes a disaster before many reporters start to “get the drill.”  As Howard Kurtz noted in the January 9 Washington Post

The larger issue is that much of the press has abandoned reporting on health and safety regulation until disaster strikes. How many reporters have dug into the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, which under the Bush administration was run by a former Utah mine manager until last year? About as many as did pieces, before Hurricane Katrina, on why a former Arabian horse official was running the dysfunctional bureaucracy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Heck of a job.

Of course, there are exceptions.  Ken Ward, Jr., coverage of mountaintop removal  for the Charleston Gazette comes to mind

 And there’s Ellen Smith, the investigative journalist and publisher of  Mine Safety and Health News., who I’ve read  for years, ever since I started writing on the Martin County Kenticky spill. 

When I was last eating at the Great Wall, the paper on the table was the January 11 edition of USA Today, which had a letter to the editor by Smith.  In it she writes,

Three-and-a-half years ago, I hoped the Quecreek Mine accident Somerset, Pa, would be a wake-up call for mine safety in this country.  Not only has nothing changed, apparently things have also gotten worse for this nation’s miners.

Twelve men have lost their lies in a tragedy that could have been prevented and we are once again reading news releases from the Mine Safety and health Administration (MHSA) that this accident will be fully investigated so it never happens again.  How many times have I heard this.

 Smith was watching secrecy by the Bush administration when she  wrote on July 5, 2004 

Last week, Ed Clair, The U.S. Labor Department’s Associate Solicitor for Mine Safety and Health, disclosed that without public comment or imput, MSHA secretly changed its long-standing policy of routinely releasing inspector notes under the Freedom Information Act. 

On her site, Smith makes available the January 11 letter from Rep. Henry A. Waxman, ranking minority member of the House Committee on Goverment Reform to Elaine Chao, the Secretary of Labor trying to restore the former practices which dated back to 1977, at the inception of th ecurrent Mine Act. 

I am writing to urge you to reverse the 2004 decision of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)  to block public access to the reports filed by mine safety inspectors.  This unwarranted secrecy may protect the mining industry from embarrassing disclosures, but it undermines accountability and mine safety.

On January 10, 2006,  Smith notes that sunshine is not only denied to the public and reporters but even mine operators.

Now that operators cannot access inspector’s notes without going through the legal discovery process, the ACRI [Alternative Case Reolution Initiative] program is doomed to fail.  In the long run, this will cost operators and all taxpayers…It flies in the face of common sense. 

Smith also has a post at Washington Monthly on January 4,  and two on January 5, the second about her take on the “miscommunication that 12 miners had survived.    Anyone who wants to reach Smith with questions can email her at MineSafety@aol.com.

Another good sources is Jordan Barab, a former OSHA official and editor of the Confined Space blog on worker safety.  There’s a Ring of Fire interview on Air America with Barab and Tony Oppegard,  former adviser to the MSHA.

Also check out Kathy Snyder’s Mine Safety Watch, which she started in December 29, 2004 after leaving her job as public information office for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.  Snyder has 26 years experience in writing an research, primarily in the field of mining.   

According to the BBC, even China is cracking down on mining corruption.   Another Bump in the Road  has good coverage of our own corruption

The computer lab is at Virginia Western Community College closes in less than ten minutes.  So quickly, here are some other links:

 The AFL-CIO analysis of Bush’s personnel cuts 

On Counterspin 

New Standard and here

Washington Post commentary on coverage error.

NPR has posted a page with links to its audio files  on Sago.   

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