Entry for January 29, 2006

Some things I’ve been reading:

Jack Spadaro, who my Free Press readers may remember was demoted by MSHA for refusing to sign on to a whitewash the Martin County Kentucky coal sludge spill, had plain words about Sago.  “The mine should have simply been closed…The fines were absolutely absurd, but that’s all the inspectors can do. The only other option they have is a closure order, and the managers in Washington won’t let them close a mine.”

Davitt McAteer, MSHA chief during the Clinton administration told Ken Ward, Jr. of the Charleston Gazette, “The numbers don’t sound good….[they are] sufficiently high that it should tip off management that there is something amiss here. For a small operation, that is a significant number of violations. McAteer said the roof fall frequency suggests that the roof is bad and that the support system is not meeting the needs of the roof.
McAteer is leading West Virginia Governor Manchin’s investigation to be completed by July 1.  He will be working with six members of the West Virginia legislature, all of whom have first hand experience with the mining industry in various capacities.
The rescue at Sago mine was delayed because of high carbon monoxide levels, but there were other factors.  ICG did not contact MSHA until two hours after the explosion.  Federal regulations call for two mine rescue teams per underground mine, but allowed ICG to use another mine’s rescue teams within 2 hours of ground travel time,which does not take into consideration the time required to gather and equip the team members, who have other jobs. And ICG only equipped the Sago miners with the minimum required 1 hour of air in their  self-contained self-rescue devices.  
UMWA’s Roberts speaking in a hearing before a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee on January 23, reviewed equipment and procedures that could have made a difference  and recounted the number of rules proposed under McAteer that had been withdrawn by his successor at MSHA, Bush appointee David Lauriski.  Roberts cited a September 2003 General Accounting Office report  which found, “that of all the citations issued by the Agency, including those written as ‘significant and substantial,’ despite inspector-imposed deadlines by which problems were to be abated, 48% of the time the Agency failed to follow-up in a timely fashion to see if the operator fixedthe hazards. GAO also found that MSHA collected information about accidents and investigations, but then failed to use the information effectively to prevent future accidents.”
Roberts summed up his testimony “MSHA is full of former mine management executives who spend toomuch time trying to appease their friends, and too little time looking out forminers’ interests. How can we expect a regulatory Agency to effectively and fairlycarry out its duties and responsibilities when it is run by some of the very coaloperators it was designed to regulate? Many of MSHA’s top-level administratorsspent years opposing any regulatory efforts attempted by the Agency. They continue to be influenced by other coal operators, effectively muting the voices of miners who need a healthy and vibrant enforcement Agency. For years, the fox has been inside the henhouse at MSHA.”
Jordan Barab has an excellent explaination  of weaknesses in MSHA enforcement at .
The Charleston Gazette is offering its archive  of Sago mine articles free of charge.


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