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Labor News


NYT Editorial: Compounding the Risk for Coal Miners

03/20/2017

President Trump’s vow to bring back the coal industry’s heyday is a delusion. But it’s already inspiring Republican legislatures in Appalachia to resurrect a grim element of those boom times: loose safety laws that endangered miners’ lives and protected owners’ profits.

Republican leaders contend the federal government can do the inspections just as well as the states. This is a remarkable turn by politicians usually heard decrying the intrusiveness of Washington bureaucrats.

The Trump administration, already stocked with anti-environment industry sycophants, is bent on resuscitating, not regulating, Big Coal. To that end, it is moving to help surface mine operators by eliminating protections for Appalachian streams and hamlets inundated by mine wastes.

The Kentucky Legislature, where Republicans have taken control of both houses, gave final approval on Tuesday to a measure that will cut back the four annual inspections now required at a working mine to as few as one. Instead of actually checking the miners’ safety equipment on site, an inspector will write a “safety analysis” based on conversations with miners. This is feel-good law making, but Governor Matt Bevin, a Republican, is expected to sign the measure.

Similarly in West Virginia, the Republican-controlled Legislature is aiming to weaken mining law by replacing actual safety inspections with something termed “compliance visits and education.” State safety and health standards, developed across years amid the grief of repeated mining disasters, would be eliminated.

Federal safety standards should be adequate, the sponsors airily insist. In truth, both state and federal governments should continue to exercise parallel responsibilities in protecting miners’ health and safety. This is particularly vital now that Mr. Trump’s proposed budget would inflict a 21 percent cut on the Labor Department, which is responsible for federal mine inspections.

Powerful West Virginia lawmakers are behind the measure, which marks a sad retreat from the statehouse safety concerns voiced in 2010 when the Upper Big Branch disaster took 29 miners’ lives. Under the new restrictions, state workers would no longer be able to systematically cite obvious infractions in advance of trouble — only in the case of some imminent danger.

Political pandering is nothing new in Appalachia, where the coal industry has wooed and intimidated generations of state lawmakers to favor mine owners. But this latest bout, launched in tandem with Mr. Trump’s fantasy job promises, can only leave remaining miners in greater danger on the job.

NY Times editorial 3/20

   


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