Today is the eighth anniversary of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion that claimed the lives of 29 coal miners in a massive coal dust explosion. A press release from Bobby Scott, Ranking Member of the House Education and Workforce Committee notes that
five independent investigation reports by state and federal agencies agree that the mine operator violated multiple safety standards. Key safety controls, such as water sprays, were disabled which enabled a small fire to be sparked that led to a devastating disaster. Inadequate rock dusting enabled the fire to propagate into a massive coal dust explosion.
Scott is calling on Congress to enact the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2017, noting that weaknesses in the current law allowed the Upper Big Branch disaster to happen:
“In the 15 months prior to the explosion, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) issued over 600 citations, and ordered the UBB mine closed, in whole or in part, over 50 times due to unsafe conditions. Despite a pervasive pattern of violations, the Massey-operated mine gamed the system and evaded the most severe sanctions. The UBB mine had even set up elaborate advance notice schemes to forewarn mine foremen before the arrival of mine inspectors.
Senate Race: The Donald Trump of West Virginia?
Meanwhile, former Massey CEO Don Blankenship, who spent a year in jail for crimes related to the mine disaster, is running against Joe Manchin (D-WV) for West Virginia senator.
After his release from prison, Blankenship continued on his mission to exonerate himself, insisting that an unavoidable inundation of natural gas — and not methane gas and excess coal dust — caused the explosion. He launched a Twitter attacking MSHA and former MSHA head Joe Main for causing the explosion, and published a 67-page booklet that he wrote in prison about his supposedly unfair treatment at the hands of the government, calling himself a political prisoner, and released a number of nauseating videos attacking the government.
All this, despite a famous memo he sent out telling employees to focus on coal production over everything else. “If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers, or anyone else to do anything other than run coal (i.e., build overcasts, do construction jobs, or whatever) you need to ignore them and run coal,” Blankenship wrote.
So far, Blankenship has been striking out. Trump’s MSHA head David Zatezalo has refused Blankenship’s request to re-open the Upper Big Branch investigation while the Supreme Court has refused to hear Blankenship’s appeal of his conviction for conspiracy to violate federal mine safety and health standards at the mine.