Front Porch Blog

All Forms of Mining Must Become Safer for Miners and Communities

Photo: Shane Evans, WV Legislature

Appalachian Voices continues to hold the families of Raleigh County in our thoughts and prayers. As we have said before, the loss of these courageous men saddens us deeply, and we continue to support the efforts of all who are working to ensure that no similar tragedy befalls our region again.

Unequivocally, our miners deserve safe working conditions, and indisputably, our communities deserve healthy living environments. Yet, the pervasive and imposing influence of reckless mining companies like Massey Energy are standing in the way. Companies that disregard safety and environmental regulations with such startling frequency are disregarding our people and our land. It’s time we showed them the door.

Is Surface Mining the Safe Alternative to Deep Mining?

There are some who will argue that surface mining is the safe alternative to deep mining, but it is important to recognize that Appalachians in communities where there is surface mining suffer tremendous costs. These costs are incurred as a result of increased flooding, “flyrock,” poisoned water, blasts, and coal dust among other factors. According to the Hendryx study, coal mining costs Appalachia $42 billion every year as a result of negative health impacts and loss of life.

Surface mining is not always safer for miners either. In 2009, more Americans were killed at our country’s surface mines than in our deep mines.

Can We Prevent This From Happening Again?

Every miner deserves the right to go home safely and retire healthy, but is this wishful thinking in such an inherently dangerous industry? Kevin Stricklin of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) believes we can do better. Referring to the Upper Big Branch tragedy, Stricklin notes, “all explosions are preventable,” after pointing out that “it’s quite evident something went very wrong here.”

Cecil Roberts, president of United Mine Workers of America, agrees: “Mine safety laws and regulations have progressed to the point where, when followed and properly enforced, they should prevent disasters like this one at Upper Big Branch from happening.” Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine was not unionized.

Certainly, when any miner takes a job, there are certain risks. Still, these risks should never be amplified by a company’s disregard for its workers’ safety. In order to prevent another tragedy our miners need safety regulations that are enforced in Appalachia. They need these immediately.

Thinking long term, job diversification is critical. Men and women in our region need employment opportunities beyond those offered by law evading, union busting, companies such as Massey. According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, we could create 15,000 jobs a year for five years by investing in energy efficiency. Even West Virginia Congressman Nick Rahall has said he agrees that we should prioritize green jobs development.

There’s no better time than now. As Ed Markey, Democratic Representative from Massachusetts and co-author of the House approved climate-change bill, has pointed out: “Last year, coal’s share of America’s electricity generation dropped from 49 percent to 44 percent due to increased competition and decreased demand.”

Today, West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin has called for a “Day of Honor and Mourning” in which all 290 underground mines in the state have been asked to halt production for a day. We encourage you support families who have their lost loved ones by sending a donation to the West Virginia Council of Churches.




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