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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

WV Mine disaster: Who will go to jail?

I'm no legal eagle but I'm betting – no one.

Twelve Americans are dead. If the headline was "foreign terrorists kill 12 Americans", our government would be considering which country to bomb or invade. If the headline was "12 killed in botched robbery attempt", the law-and-order crowd would be screaming for the death penalty.

But in this case the murderer is a corporation - International Coal Group Inc. (Or is it? The Sago mine was purchased by International only two months ago, from Anker West Virginia Mining Co. So maybe International only drove the getaway car.)

Why "murder"? Because the Sago mine had racked up 208 federal safety violations in the last year, including 21 citations last year for a build-up of combustible materials. (Yet, " The largest individual fine last year was $440; the citations for combustible materials carried fines of $60." ) Clearly there was a pattern of disregard for safety at this mine. One also wonders if the current head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration came to his job in a similar manner as ex-FEMA head Michael Brown (David G. Dye; apparently not). According to this op-ed in the Miami Herald, MSHA has the power to shut down an unsafe mine. So why was Sago even online with this kind of safety record?

Anyway, instead of bombing the "terrorists" or charging the apparent culprits with capital murder, the U.S. Government (via Dye) has announced that it will "begin an in-depth investigation of the accident." That's nice. Hopefully the fine will be a little more than $440 this time, at least.

I am reminded of when I once worked for a large defense contractor. Believe it or not, an expression occasionally heard there was "no I can't do that – I could go to jail." I'm not joking – many of us actually believed, back then, that certain types of malfeasance at our jobs could actually land us in jail.

Maybe that's a fear that ought to be a little more prevalent around coal mines, and the companies that operate them.


Mine Safety and Health Administration
MSHA information page for Sago mine explosion

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