WASHINGTON -DC— The coal mining disasters that have struck the nation in recent years are the logical outgrowth of a regulatory retreat by the Bush administration, according to a report released today by Ralph Nader’s Center for Study of Responsive Law. “Undermining Safety: A Report on Coal Mine Safety” by Christopher W. Shaw analyzes the state of the nation’s coal mine safety program. It finds that: conflicts of interest have beset top mine safety regulations; the Bush administration has slashed the inspection and enforcement staffing for coal mines; top Bush officials have subverted proposed coal dust standards (and suggested rolling-back standards already in place); and Bush Administration officials dropped a serious regulatory approach and instead opted for a “cooperative” relationship with coal mining companies.
Consumer Advocate Ralph Nader said:
“I have been involved in coal mine health and safety issues since before and during the passage of the landmark Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969. All the data demonstrate that introduction of governmental health and safety regulations has prevented injuries, disease, and death. But as Christopher Shaw’s report demonstrates, coal operators have repeatedly acted to undermine the effectiveness of health and safety measures.
“The tragic disasters that have recently befallen miners serve to highlight how the Bush Administration’s misplaced priorities are detrimental to the public interest. The quality of the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s efforts, while Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao has been at the helm of the Department of Labor, has been poor. The Mine Safety and Health Administration needs to focus on upgrading and rigorous enforcement of all standards designed to protect miners.”
“For hundreds of years, coal barons have abused and endangered their workers,” says Shaw. “Workers’ protection depends not on mine owners’ beneficence but on strong unions and on an independent regulatory apparatus. The Bush administration has repeatedly abrogated its responsibility to seriously regulate this most dangerous of industries.”
In addition to substantially better governmental enforcement, the report also recommends that private foundations commit substantial resources to occupational health and safety issues; that workers’ expertise on workplace safety issues be more fully utilized; that an independent Ombudsman be established at the Mine Safety and Health Administration; and that larger civil penalties and stiffer criminal penalties be imposed on rogue coal operators when appropriate.
According to Mr. Shaw, the AFL-CIO has justifiably criticized President Bush, who in his 2009 budget cut funding for the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s coal mine enforcement work from $155 million to $145 million.
The AFL-CIO said:
Bush’s 2009 fiscal year budget — drops MSHA’s funding for the coal mine enforcement from $155 million to $145 million. The budget comes on the heels of a year in which:
-33 coal miners were killed—including six miners and three rescue workers at Utah’s Crandall Canyon Mine.
-MSHA failed to conduct mandatory mine safety inspections at 107 coal mines because there are not enough trained, qualified inspectors to do them.
-It was revealed that MSHA has failed to fine mine owners for than 4,000 safety and health violations its inspectors uncovered since 2000.
-MSHA missed the deadline to issue new federal rules for mine safety teams and was forced to recruit volunteers from other safety agencies to help MSHA meet upcoming deadlines or other mine safety rules.
Christopher W. Shaw is a policy analyst at the Center for Study of Responsive Law. The Center is a nonprofit organization, founded by Ralph Nader in 1968. The Center supports and conducts a wide variety of research and educational projects to encourage the political, economic and social institutions of this country to be more aware of the needs of the citizen-consumer.
Printed copies of the report are available from the Center for Study of Responsive Law, P.O. Box 19367, Washington DC. 20036 for $20.00. Checks should be made payable to CSRL.