01-05-2006, 02:34 PM
ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Joining us now on the phone is the former director of the National Mine Safety and Health Academy, Jack Spadaro. In terms of safety, Jack, what do we know about this mine and its relative safety in how it should have been operating?
JACK SPADARO, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL MINE ACADEMY: We know from the record that the mine, in particular in the past year, has been cited over 180 times for violations of federal mine health and safety law and regulations. And about 90 of those violations were called serious and substantial violations of the law. So we know that it was a very unsafe mine and that there were serious problems with mine ventilation and roof control.
COLMES: Are you saying that these men should not have been allowed to go down there?
SPADARO: Yes, sir.
COLMES: You're saying this mine should not have been open?
SPADARO: This mine should have been closed. And there were too many serious violations. And the record is very clear.
COLMES: Why was it open then? If you, as a safety expert, feels it should not have been, why was it open?
SPADARO: I think it's because of the current Bush administration's policies toward mine operators and their reluctance to take the strong enforcement action that's sometimes necessary. And that often involves closing a mine.
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Jack, let's not politicize this! I mean, already, what do you want, to blame George Bush with this? Is that where you're headed with this political question? I don't think this is the time to go into that.
There certainly are issues. This mine was cited for over 200 violations, 46 during an 11-week period late in the year. They've been fined thousands of dollars. But I can't see an instance where it was recommended that they close it.
SPADARO: Well, actually, there were three orders to close portions of the mine that were issued in the October to the December period. And there has been a significant change since the Bush administration took over, the enforcement of mine safety and health.
And I can speak to that, because I worked in the agency, and I talk with people every day who tell me that, in recent years, and particularly in recent months, there's been a reluctance on the part of the top management at the Mine Safety and Health Administration...
HANNITY: All right, you've got a political...
SPADARO: ... to enforce the law.
HANNITY: We don't have time tonight to get into this, nor do I think it's appropriate. But you clearly have a political agenda that, if I had enough time, I'm sure I...
SPADARO: No. You called me and asked me to make a comment.
HANNITY: I know, but I'm sure...
SPADARO: And I'm telling you what's...
HANNITY: You want to turn this into a political thing...
SPADARO: No, I'm telling you what the truth is.
HANNITY: ... and we have families that are suffering tonight, sir.
SPADARO: And that's the truth is that there were 180 violations...
HANNITY: You want to blame George Bush...
SPADARO: ... that were serious.
HANNITY: ... like a lot of extreme left-wingers. All right. Go ahead. You got your point out.
COLMES: Mr. Spadaro, I'm not sure that you have a political point of view, but I do thank you very much for coming on the show tonight. Thank you for your time.
L.A. BRONCOS FAN
01-05-2006, 08:15 PM
Bush blew off Mine Warnings
The tragic news about the death of 12 mine workers this week has brought up questions about the Bush administration's record protecting mine workers. Back in 2002, I was working for the House Appropriations Committee. At the time, you may recall there was a big mining accident in Western Pennsylvania. Bush held a big photo-op to pretend like he cared - but he never responded to the fact sheet that House Democrats put out questioning why he had made so many cuts to mine safety programs. It was released to the media and the
administration on August 5, 2002 - the same day Bush did his big photo-op.
Bush's people fired the Mining Safety expert with 20 year's experience
after claiming he was off $28 on his expense vouncher, and, in his place, they put a friendly coal lobbyist.
So the rules got relaxed enough that this particular mine had 205 safety violations in 2005.
Just like Katrina - deny all funding for safety and backup systems, then act surprised when it crashes.
That's how the Bush crime family works.
Dismantle all safety precautions and then say "don't play the blame game" when the people die.
L.A. BRONCOS FAN
01-05-2006, 08:58 PM
Mine tragedy, Abramoff scandal -- their roots connect them
It's been interesting reading the blogosphere and watching cable news these last 24 hours -- kind of like keeping tabs on parallel universes at same time. On CNN and MSNBC, it's been all West Virginia mine tragegy all the time, specially since the utterly tragic and gut-wrenching events of last night, when it was first reported that 12 miners had lived, when in fact 12 of 13 had died. (For the best analysis of the media and what went wrong, read Greg Mitchell's piece here.) The indictment of powerful and mostly GOP-tied lobbyist Jack Abramoff has been a top of the hour footnote.
Of course, over on the left side of the blogosphere, they've been partying like it's 1996 over Abramoff's downfall, and the lawmakers he may take with him. The tragedy at the Sago Mine has been treated as a typical cable-news-circus distraction, punctuated with the occasional post of "Holy crap, they're alive!", followed by "Holy crap, they're dead."
Don't look past the big picture. The roots of the horrific events underneath the earth in timeworn West Virginia, and the scandal on the tony sidewalks of Washington's K Street, are as deeply intertwined as those aspens out west, maybe more so. It's a connection that can be summed up in three simple words:
Republicans gone wild.
The confluence of big business and too-powerful lobbyists, including the revolving door between K Street and federal government, the casual and cynical selling-off of the safety net for blue collar and low wage workers, the arrogance and secrecy that come with unchecked political power in one party -- these are all the hallmarks of Abramoff and his alleged influence peddling on Capital Hill.
But a review of the way that Washington has treated the coal industry in America since 2001 -- and the Sago mine in particular -- show all of these exact same problems coming to roost in the steep hills of West Virginia.
In the last four years, the Bush White House has named lobbyist-friendly former coal-industry officials to run the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, setting the stage for a transformation of a worker-safety agency into a tool of the industry.
During this time, MSHA has sought to weaken regulations regarding airborne coal dust -- a possible cause of Monday's deadly explosion. Even with a reduced emphasis on inspections, federal agents found a growing pattern of serious safety violations at Sago over the last two years, yet imposed fines amounting to less than a slap on the wrist.
And the United Mine Workers, the most forceful advocate for worker safety, is gone -- the result of a powerful new coal conglomerate granted power by a GOP-appointed bankruptcy judge to take over troubled mines like Sago and cancel labor agreements.
This story from today's Washington Post (on its favored dumping ground, Pg. A4) kicks off with this damning summation:
Time and again over the past four years, federal mining inspectors documented the same litany of problems at central West Virginia's Sago Mine: mine roofs that tended to collapse without warning. Faulty or inadequate tunnel supports. A dangerous buildup of flammable coal dust.
Officials with the company that recently bought the Sago mine -- International Coal Group -- have sought to spin the explosion and a subsequent tragedy as an act of God, a "horrible freak accident."
But even assuming that the initial explosion was sparked by a lightning bolt, the mine disaster is an act of God in the same sense that Hurricane Katrina was an act of God -- a natural disaster made far worse by the folly of man. (This new Knight Ridder article, in fact, shows how most Katrina victims died in the zone of faulty levee construction).
But there is a major difference here from the Bush government's handling of Katrina, marked by indifference toward levee funding and ineptitude and raw cronyism at FEMA. In the case of MSHA and the mine industry, the Republicans knew exactly what they were doing in 2001, and their point man, Dave Lauriski, did "a heck of a job" -- for big business.
Lauriski came into Washington in May 2001 with 30 years of experience as a coal company executive and consultant. He had been the safety director at a mine in Utah when a fire there killed 27 workers in 1984. Union officials worried that Lauriski would tilt toward business and away from worker safety, and he pretty much confirmed their fears.
Remember, Jack Abramoff isn't the only lobbyist with clout in George W. Bush's Washington. This is from the Sept. 19, 2004, Charleston Gazette:
Between January 2002 and March 2004, federal mine safety and health chief Dave D. Lauriski met at least eight times with an old friend, Washington lawyer Ed Green. At the time, Green was a lobbyist for Energy West Mining Co., the Utah-based operation where Lauriski worked before he joined the Bush administration...
Joe Main, the UMW's health and safety director, said he has not had a meeting with Lauriski since June 2002.
The issue of coal dust was a particularly thorny one for MSHA during Lauriski's tenure. As the Washington Post noted on Nov. 16, 2004: "Lauriski, formerly general manager of Energy West Mining Co. in Utah, one of the largest underground coal producers, offered a replacement rule. It would have allowed an increase in coal dust, to be offset by miners wearing protective breathing helmets, rather than investing in better ventilation and water to tamp down the dust. "
Congress intervened, and the plan for regulating coal dust went back to the drawing board. It's unfortunate that nothing at all was worked out and implemented, since it's possible that a buildup of coal dust sparked this week's fatal blast in Sago.
This from the excellent worker safety blog, Confined Space (via Suburban Guerrilla):
McAteer thinks that while it is possible that lightning may have ignited the explosion, he isn't aware of any other such instances. There are several other causes that are more likely. First, even if lightning did strike the mine and somehow find its way underground, the lightning would only be the ignition source. An explosion also needs fuel. There are two likely fuel sources in mines: methane gas and coal dust. The Sago mine reportedly had low levels of methane, although a rise in the barometric pressure can cause methane to be liberated faster. For this reason, MSHA has a system of winter alerts.
Coal dust is a more likely problem. A small explosion that kicks up a cloud of coal dust can generate a much larger secondary explosion. The mine was cited by MSHA 21 times last year for an "accumulation of combustible materials." Dry winter air also makes coal dust explosions more likely.
Coal dust hasn't been the only problem at Sago. Here's a summary from that same article in the Post today:
In the past two years, the mine was cited 273 times for safety violations, of which about a third were classified as "significant and substantial," according to documents compiled by the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Many were for problems that could contribute to accidental explosions or the collapse of mine tunnels, records show.
In addition, 16 violations logged in the past eight months were listed as "unwarrantable failures," a designation reserved for serious safety infractions for which the operator had either already been warned, or which showed "indifference or extreme lack of care," said Tony Oppegard, a former MSHA senior adviser.
"That is a very high number, and it is usually indicative of a very poor safety record," Oppegard said.
The Post said the rate of worker days lost to injury at Sago was double the national average and "in the past year, large sections of the mine's rocky roof collapsed on at least 20 occasions -- but not when workers were in the affected tunnels."
Yet the penalties proposed by the government at Sago had less impact than a buzzing gnat. As Bloomberg noted today:
The largest individual fine last year was $440; the citations for combustible materials carried fines of $60....
Phil Smith, the communications director for the United Mine Workers of America, in Washington, said the fines assessed for safety violations are too small to force large corporations to make improvements.
``We could get pulled over for speeding and pay more than that,'' said Smith, who said the Sago mine was non-union. ``The problem with the current laws is enforcement.''
When MSHA investigate what went wrong this week, Lauriski will no longer be around to oversee it. He left just 16 days after last November's presidential election -- to take a job with a mine industry consulting firm. To replace him, the Bush administration picked Richard Stickler, yet another industry official who once ran mines that, according to the UMW, had injury rates that were double the national average -- just like Sago.
Of course, it's been harder under the Bush administration to look at those records. As the Lexington Herald-Leader reported on Aug. 3, 2005:
Under [Elaine] Chao, the Labor Department has refused to release coal mine inspection reports that had previously been routinely available to mine operators; blocked out long sections of an inspector general's report on the Martin County coal-waste spill; and even refused to divulge basic biographical information about officials who had been appointed to high positions in MSHA.
Then there's the problem of the union. There isn't one. Two months ago, Sago was bought out of bankruptcy by International Coal Group, headed by so-called "vulture capitalist" (and, it must be noted, Democratic donor and John Kerry pal) Wilbur Ross.
ICG's strategy hinges on slashing so-called "legacy costs," dumping pensions on the federal government, slashing health benefits and either going non-union -- as at Sago -- or brokering contracts more favorable to management. Its controversial tactics were recently supported by a Kentucky federal bankruptcy judge appointed under the president's father in 1990.
The UMW is far from perfect, but given the safety problems at Sago, is there any doubt that the workers there needed some forceful advocacy. Some family members mentioned this on TV last night.
Indeed, the wall-to-wall coverage from the rural Appalachian outpost reminds us a lot of the Katrina footage -- a rare glimpse from the mainstream media into that "other America" that apparently only forces its way into the conciousness of most wealthier and media-savvy zip codes when dead bodies begin to pile up.
These struggling work-a-day people look and seem a million miles away from the white linen tableclothes of K Street restaurants and the plush corporate jets where lobbyists like Jack Abramoff and revolving-door bureaucrats and well-fed lawmakers are making the cold policy decisions that affect their lives.
But until people make that connection between the corruption on one end of the American political pipeline and the human misery on the other end, these problems will linger in the air like toxic coal dust.
A few seconds ago, we watched President Bush utter the usual banal condolences to the families of the dead. If he really wanted to honor the lost miners and their memory, he would promise a renewed focus on real worker safety measures.
But like the Sago family members whose hearts were ripped out early this morning by the vultures of big business, inept government officials and a confused and even more inept news media, we're losing our capacity to believe in miracles.
http://www.pnionline.com/dnblog/attytood/archives/002620.html (with sources)
L.A. BRONCOS FAN
01-10-2006, 11:05 PM
L.A. BRONCOS FAN
01-10-2006, 11:10 PM