Hold Fossil Fuel Industries Accountable

The last few months have shocked us all with headlines reporting the fossil fuel industry’s negligent disregard for security and safety.

Mine disasters devastated a West Virginia community in April, with 29 miners killed in a blast at Upper Big Branch — the biggest mining disaster since the 1970s. In Kentucky’s Coal Dotiki Mine, a cave-in killed two more miners. And off the coast of Louisiana, the Deepwater Horizon oilrig explosion, which occurred when the blowout preventer failed to engage, robbed 11 men of their lives; as of the writing of this editorial, oil continues to spew into the Gulf of Mexico at an alarming rate, threatening coastal wildlife areas as well as coastal communities.

These recent incidents are not unusual. In December of 2008, TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant sludge dam failed, dumping 5.4 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash into the Emory and Clinch Rivers.

In 1972, West Virginia’s Buffalo Creek disaster killed 125 people overnight, when a sludge dam broke, flooding and devastating the community.

In both instances, officials were aware of structural issues with the dams, but the communities were not informed.

The TVA recently announced that a full cleanup of the spill in Kingston, Tenn., is impossible; the impacted watersheds will remain polluted.

These disasters should have been avoided, and would have if responsible measures were taken to protect our communities and the natural resources they depend on.

The fossil fuel industry seems to be cutting corners while receiving “special treatment” from regulators. The hands-off approach of permitting fossil fuel industries to practically self-regulate and self-report is clearly a massive failure.

Prior to the disaster, Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine had been cited for numerous safety violations. BP had been cited on many occasions for health and safety violations aboard their rigs. Fines were paid, but were corrections made? The industry often dismisses community concerns as naive or anti-business, suggesting there is “nothing to worry about.”

With all these tragedies and catastrophes, critical questions yet remain: What have we learned? How will the safety of American workers and citizens be secured? How much do we value our fragile ecosystems? And will we take the lessons from these disasters and ensure that our planet and people will not suffer future repercussions from similar oversights, or will big business continue to be given priority in decision making?

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