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On the West Virginia Coal Mining Tragedy On the West Virginia Coal Mining Tragedy

On the West Virginia Coal Mining Tragedy

by Ben Jervey
April 7, 2010
Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in Montcoal, West Virginia. I'm far too filled up with fury and sorrow to put together any real comment, but it seems important here to remind ourselves that these deaths were preventable.
This is not a place to comment on the environmental impact of coal. This tragedy is about callous corporate greed that put profit above the safety of workers. Jeff Biggers, who has been researching and covering the coal fields for ages, has a lot more to say about how greed is really "What Killed the Miners."We're still learning exactly what happened at the Upper Big Branch mine, but there are some things we do know. We do know that since 1995, there have been over 3,000 safety violations at the Upper Big Branch, which is owned by Massey Energy, and that there were 57 safety violations recorded at the mine last month. We do know that Massey Energy plead guilty to "criminal violations" back in 2006 for a fire at their Aracoma mine in West Virginia that took the lives of two miners. And we know that before that fire, Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship responded internally to safety concerns being raised by overseeing agencies with a now-infamous internal memo that said:
"If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal (i.e. - build overcasts, do construction jobs, or whatever) you need to ignore them and run coal...This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that coal pays the bills."
And on a much more human note, we do know that one of the workers killed was a few weeks short of retirement.As Gary Harki sent along to the Charleston Gazette's Coal Tattoo:
May was going to be a big month for Benny Willingham. On May 13 he was planning on working his last day in the Upper Big Branch Mine-South.The next day he would have turned 65. And before the end of the month, he had a cruise scheduled that he'd already bought and paid for, said Michelle McKinney, Willingham's daughter.But those plans vanished Monday when Willingham lost his life in the Massey Energy Mine.
Ken Ward's Coal Tattoo blog is the best place to look for ongoing coverage. There are still at least four workers trapped in "dire conditions." Let's turn our hopes and prayers to them for now.More coverage:
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