As we write this, two more miners are missing in West Virginia as the result of a fire inside a coal mine. This time, the company that owns the Mine is Massey Energy - a mining giant with one hell of a bad reputation in Appalachia.
In 2000, a coal waste reservoir operated by Massey in Kentucky sprung a leak and dumped 300 million gallons of toxic sludge into local tributaries of the Ohio River. The accident killed more wildlife and destroyed a larger geographical area that the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which amounted to "only" 11 million gallons of oil.
A young investigator named Jack Spadaro was sent by the Mine Safety and Health Agency to investigate the accident. Hew discovered that Massey had been fully aware of the reservoir's likelihood to fail, and yet did nothing. Instead, Massey had poured money into Republican campaign coffers, including Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell's campaign committee and the Bush Cheney campaign. It just so happened that McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao was appointed Secretary of Labor after Bush's election. The MSHA is an agency within the Department of Labor. Furthermore, Bush appointed a former Massey executive to the MHSA's review committee which handles all legal issues related to the Coal Act.
Spadaro recommended that Massey be charged with criminal negligence. His superiors refused. And when Spadaro publicly questioned whether mine safety had been sold to the highest bidder under Bush, he was summarily fired.
Today, another huge Massey sludge pond at a Kentucky mine sits on a hill
above an elementary school. Coal dust blankets the school yard.
Neighbors want the pond decommissioned; in response Massey applied for
and won permits to build coal silos even closer to the school.
The company also regularly
violates coal truck weight limits, sending monster
trucks weighing 140,000-160,000
pounds hurtling through central Appalachia's winding
roads. These speeding, overweight trucks damage roads
and kill, on average, four to six people a year in auto
accidents. Recently Don Blankenship, Massey's CEO,
weighed in with his thoughts on killing innocent motorists:
"The truth of the matter is . . . four to six fatalities a year,
with the number of miles coal trucks are traveling on these highways each year,
is no worse than average."
In addition to being openly
anti-union (only 5 percent of Massey's work force is represented by a union),
Massey has been called one of the worst coal companies
in America for miner safety by the United Mine Workers
of America union, who also claim that the company uses
contracted management to avoid paying workers' compensation.
Massey has been sued by its employees for overexposure
to coal processing chemicals and has been investigated
by the Mine Safety & Health Administration for chronic
health and safety violations at its mines.
In the past 2 years, the Massey mine where yesterday's fire broke out was cited by the MSHA 204 times for safety violations, but paid less that $50,000 in fines.
So we have Sago, Part Two. Cronyism kills.