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West Virginia Massey Energy Coal Mine Disaster—Facts About Coal Mine Safety

Many miners have been killed in a coal mine disaster in Montcoal, West Virginia. This is in a coal mine run by Massey Energy that has recorded many safety violations.

(Above—The mine in the Massey Energy disaster.)

(Update–4/8/10, 9:40 AM EDT  —A West Virginia TV station has the latest from the mine.)

25 miners are known to be dead and four more are thought to be dead.

From the New York Times

“The mine owner’s dismal safety record, along with several recent evacuations of the mine, left federal officials and miners suggesting that Monday’s explosion might have been preventable…In the past two months, miners had been evacuated three times from the Upper Big Branch because of dangerously high methane levels, according to two miners who asked for anonymity for fear of losing their jobs. Representative Nick J. Rahall II, a Democrat whose district includes the mine, said he had received similar reports from miners about recent evacuations at the mine, which as recently as last month was fined at least three times for ventilation problems, according to federal records…The Massey Energy Company, the biggest coal mining business in central Appalachia and the owner of the Upper Big Branch mine, has drawn sharp scrutiny and fines from regulators over its safety and environmental record. In 2008, one of its subsidiaries paid what federal prosecutors called the largest settlement in the history of the coal industry after pleading guilty to safety violations that contributed to the deaths of two miners in a fire in one of its mines.”

The worst coal mining disaster ever in the United States also took place in West Virginia. in 1907, 362 miners died in  Monongah, West Virginia in a disaster causes by a cave-in, an explosion and the build-up of toxic gases.

Below is from the account of the Monongah disaster that I link to above. It is from information prepared by Boise State University about a number of historical disasters—

“Thirteen days after the accident, an official Federal government report on mining accidents and deaths was released. On December 19th The New York Times reported that the government document said the number of accidents due to mining explosions had steadily increased and the cause of these accidents were often caused by of “lack of proper and enforceable mine regulations.” Another contributing factor was the absence of information on the explosives used in mining and the proper conditions under which they should be used. In comparison to the increase in mining accidents in the United States, European mining accidents had steadily decreased and this was considered the result of government intervention in these countries.”

How long will it go on that miners die in unsafe mines?

Here is the  web home of the United Mine Workers of America. The mine in this tragedy, the Upper Big Branch Mine, is not a union mine.

Here is a history of the United Mine Workers. They have done good work over the years to make coal mines safer places to work.

Coal mine deaths take place all over the world.  The Voice of America has written about stepped-up investigation of mines in China after a recent mine disaster in that country.

Some make the point that the human cost of coal mining is another reason to move to different sources of energy. The blogger Kathleen Davis, who writes the blog Eye On The Grid, draws an analogy between the dangers of coal mining and diamonds that extracted from mines in unethical and unsafe ways.

This said, the jobs of people who work in mines are important. If alternative sources of energy are to be used, miners should be helped by government to transition into new jobs.  It is is easy to see how a miner in West Virginia or Kentucky might wonder where he or she will find work that pays the money they are currently making.

Here is web site called Roger’s World–Coal Mining. Roger is a person who grew up in a coal mining camp in Kentucky and offers some perspective from the miner’s view.

In any case, one thing is certain–-Federal regulations are needed to make sure that workplaces are safe. You can never count on an industry to regulate itself.

Here are some facts on how coal mining is conducted from the Kentucky Geological Survey.

April 7, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Houston Mayor Parker Should Be Commended For Proposing Needed Water & Sewer Rate Increases

Houston Mayor Annise Parker should be commended for having the political courage to ask for a water and sewer rate increase even in hard times. Running a city costs money. It is consistent with strong political leadership that when economic conditions are tough, the people who benefit from city services are asked to pay for what they get. People will no doubt complain and for many even a few dollars makes a big difference, but the fact is that some cities have personal income taxes and higher tax rates of all kinds than does Houston.  We are not a high tax city.

From the Houston Chronicle—

“Mayor Annise Parker’s administration is proposing drastic water and sewer rate increases to shore up Houston’s Combined Utility System, which has operated with multimillion-dollar budget deficits for several years. The estimated rate hike under the proposal, presented to City Council on Tuesday, would be about 12.5 percent for residential water users, increasing from about $47 a month for the average household use of 6,000 gallons of water to about $53.  Those who live in apartments would face a far higher increase, in many cases greater than 50 percent, although that aspect of the proposal could change in the coming weeks, city officials said. Across all classes of ratepayers, including multifamily and commercial users, the proposed increase comes to about 25 percent. Michael Marcotte, the director of the Department of Public Works and Engineering, warned of potential downgrades in the credit rating for some of the city’s debt if rates are not significantly increased. He also said the system runs the risk of falling behind on much-needed maintenance that keeps drinking water safe. The reason the water-sewer system is in arrears, he said, is that it has been hit in recent years by much higher costs than anticipated, lower water usage and water rates that did not keep up with expenses. This year, the city is projected to have a $102 million shortfall in the Combined Utility System, one it has closed with the use of debt..(Some)objected to the high cost increases scheduled for apartment users, saying it would have a disproportionately high impact on the poor. “Most of the people in my family live in apartments, and they live in low-income apartments,” said Councilwoman Jolanda Jones, who grew emotional in speaking about the proposed increases. “They don’t have an additional $5, $10, $12 to pay their water bill. Houston Apartment Association President Andy Teas said the increased bills to apartment complex owners would likely be passed on directly to tenants. Teas said the association was concerned that the administration would repeat the record increases of about six years ago, when apartment owners saw triple the rate hikes of homeowners…“We’re always concerned..there’s a political aspect to this issue that single-family homeowners are the most reliable voters in city elections,” Teas said,.. “We want to make sure that the city is not getting into the temptation to subsidize likely voters at the expense of the others.”

The issue of higher possible rates for apartment residents is a concern. The Mayor has said she is willing to look at this issue again. This is just what Mayor Parker has said about possible 50% rate hikes for health insurance for some City of Houston retirees. It seems the Mayor uses as a tactic throwing out a proposal and then being “willing” to offer some give on the most severe aspects of that proposal.

Hopefully Mayor Parker will stay the course on this rate increase, while mitigating the possible impact of higher bills on the most poor residents of our city.

Here is a link to Sewerhistory.org for information on the history of sewers.

April 7, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment