I applaud the Banner's excellent editorial about the need for stepped up health and safety enforcement in America's coal mines. Having been the United Mine Workers of America's communications director for nine years, I fought side by side with rank-and-file UMWA coal miners every day to try and convince the Bush administration and the Republican-led Congress to stop scaling back on critical mine safety inspections.
Because of the tragic events of 9/11, few Vermonters might remember that also in September 2001, there was a horrible series of methane gas explosions in an Alabama coal mine. Thirteen miners were killed.
That event could have, in the UMWA's opinion and the court of public opinion, been prevented if the federal MSHA investigators had been performing the number of inspections required by law. But because of Bush cuts to the number of federal inspectors, it wasn't possible. Sad, but true. That was the trigger that got UMWA coal miners pleading with the federal government in 2001 for stepped-up enforcement. Now, thanks to the November 2006 elections, Washington is finally starting to hold MSHA and the coal industry responsible for doing everything possible to prevent future accidents.
On a separate note, I had to laugh at Kevin Hughes's recent letter to the Banner, singing the praises of coal operator Bob Murray, whom he works for.
Funny, but I read in the Salt Lake Tribune that MSHA Director Richard Stickler, when testifying before Congress, said he had to counsel Mr. Murray against "inappropriately" answering families' questions and later even asked Emery County Sheriff Lamar Guymon to bar Murray from the family crisis center.
"I know there was some problems with the way he addressed family members, Stickler testified. "I think part of it is just an aggressive personality."
Does this sound to you like Murray was there for the families? There's a reason I titled a story in the July/August 2001 UMWA Journal: "Bob Murray: Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get."