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Coal River Mountain Watch responds to recent mine disasters
The membership of CRMW wishes to extend its sympathies to the families of the 17 miners who lost their lives in the preventable disasters in Upshur, Logan, and Boone Counties in West Virginia and Pike County in Kentucky. These disasters have prompted the West Virginia legislature to institute reforms to make rescue quicker and more effective. The U.S. Senate has been holding hearings to improve mine safety.

CRMW applauds these efforts. However, we are dismayed that individual fatalities, such as that on January 10 near Pikeville, KY, are barely reported locally and ignored nationally while receiving no government attention. We would also like to see safety regulations strengthened and strictly enforced. Lax enforcement and miniscule fines have made miners’ lives cheap in comparison to the profits made in the coal industry’s mad rush to get the coal out of the ground and into the bank. Just so everyone knows, Massey Energy, the worst culprit in devastating the Coal River Valley, owns the Alma mine and the Black Castle mine, scenes of three of the fatalities. International Coal Group, the owner of the Sago mine, is run by Massey-incubated executives. Five of the ICG’s top eight executives, including company president Ben Hatfield, are former Massey executives.

CRMW began receiving calls from media the day after the Sago disaster. Our members were interviewed on Court TV and Democracy Now. Our message is that weak regulations and lax enforcement endanger communities as well as miners. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), run by former coal industry executives and lobbyists, is responsible for inspecting sludge dams and surface mines as well as underground mines. MSHA failed to protect the miners at Sago and Alma and it failed to prevent the 309 million-gallon sludge spill in Martin County, KY, in 2000. Should we trust MSHA to protect the kids at Marsh Fork Elementary School, just 400 yards from a Massey Energy sludge dam, especially when that dam has a history of safety violations?

Some industry representatives are already using these disasters as justification for mountaintop removal, falsely claiming that surface mining is safer. First, mountaintop removal places homes and whole communities in danger. Second, nearly two-thirds of the mine fatalities from 1999 through 2003 happened on the surface, according to MSHA reports.

Please write to the governor and remind him that mine safety extends beyond the gates and into the communities. Tell him to be proactive and take action before preventable disasters strike again. For example, he could support sludge safety legislation and also see that the students of Marsh Fork Elementary have a new, safe school in their own community.

Donations to assist the Sago and Melville miners’ families can be sent to the West Virginia Council of Churches, 2207 Washington Street East, Charleston WV 25311. Checks for the Sago miner families should be made out to the Sago Mine Assistance Fund. Checks for the Mellville families should be sent to the Mellville Mine Assistance Fund at the same address. Credit card donations can be made at www.wvcc.org.


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