An unfortunate tragedy occured last week when 29 coal miners in West Virginia were killed in a massive explosion – the worst mining accident since 1972.
As families mourn and begin funeral arrangements, skeptics question if coal mines are adhering to rules and regulations set by the federal government. It is terrible that these families must suffer the loss of loved ones, but it is almost expected because of the dangers associated with coal mining.
The federal government, as well as the mine’s owner, Massey Energy Co., share a bulk of the blame.
Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey, has repeatedly been fined for issues with a venting system in the mine. And experts believe that a buildup of methane gas may have caused the explosion, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
Author Jeff Goodell said to the Washington Post that to stop the abuse of miners, a complete change in West Virginia’s political system would have to take place, which is a challenge of its own. An investigation into the incident is now under way by the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
There may never be risk-free underground mining, but mines should always operate consistently on the highest safety standards. President Barack Obama expressed his condolences last week to the victims’ families.
“Mining has a long and proud history in West Virginia,” Obama said. “It is a profession that’s not without risks and danger, and the workers and their families know this, but the government and their employer know that they owe it to these employees’ families to do everything possible to ensure their safety.”
Following the 2006 Sago mine explosion in Tallmansville, W.Va., where 12 miners were trapped and killed, the state should have learned to take proper precautions. Even in that case, the miners could have survived with proper ventilation.
Coal mining had been making strides toward safety, but this incident sets it back again. There is still a gap in safety between unionized mines and non-unionized ones.
It is time for better safety regulations to be implemented and, more importantly, enforced at all levels of government. It should go all the way to the top, from the Environmental Protection Agency, to the Department of Energy, to the Justice Department. More needs to be done to prevent this kind of tragedy.
Naomi Prioleau is a junior majoring in mass communications.