Corporate murder in mine disaster
Detroit--Corporate negligence was responsible for the deaths of nine coal miners in Utah's Crandall Canyon coal mine disaster last year, according to two recent federal investigative reports, one by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the other by the Labor Department. Both reports lay the blame for the tragedy squarely at the door of the mine owner, Murray Energy Corporation, and its subsidiary mine operator, Genwal Resources.
The reports disclosed that the mine had long been operating under dangerous conditions, conditions that were known by mine management. They were not only ignored, but were also falsified to obtain permission to use retreat mining, which is very profitable and removes coal pillars that help keep the roof from caving in. Removing the coal pillars tremendously increases the pressure on the roof, and this pressure manifests itself by the flaking of coal from the sides and pillars in the mine and by upheavals in the floor, called bumps.
These were the conditions the miners were working in on Aug. 6 last year, when the top caved in on six men. Instead of MSHA directing the rescue efforts, which it is mandated to do, this task was left to the mine owner, Robert Murray, who insisted that the roof fall resulted from an earthquake (an "act of God") in order to escape future prosecution, despite a seismograph report from the nearby University of Utah rejecting that claim.
The botched rescue efforts resulted ten days later in the deaths from another roof fall of three rescuers who were trying to reach the six dead or trapped miners, and the rescue efforts were terminated. The toll: nine dead miners, all still entombed in that mine.
The MSHA report especially criticized Genwal for failure to fully report the dangerous mine conditions, and that deceit deprived MSHA of the information it needed to make decisions about the mine operations. MSHA fined Murray Energy $1.6 million for its irresponsible actions, the highest fine ever assessed by the agency. Another company, Agapito Associates, that had drawn up the retreat mining plans for Crandall Canyon, was fined $220,000 for submitting false data that masked the dangerous conditions in the mine.
The Labor Department report also criticized MSHA for approving the retreat mining plans and for its failure to take control of the mine rescue operations, despite MSHA pleading ignorance of the unsafe conditions. The reports also confirmed that it was no earthquake but unsafe conditions in the mine that led to the deaths of the miners. The public outrage at the spate of mine disasters in the past few years has resulted in the hiring of 322 mining enforcement employees, which clearly demonstrates the horrible lack of safety concerns by this administration. It has filled all worker watchdog agencies with industry appointees and slashed their budgets to the point that they are incapable of performing their duties.
While the additional enforcement personnel will undoubtedly help, this is no substitute for needed mine safety legislative reform. Such reform has been submitted to Congress, but is opposed by MSHA, whose director, Richard E. Strickler, says it does not permit enough "flexibility" (whatever that is) or allow enough time to effect the provisions. This is the same argument that MSHA has consistently used to delay or prevent federal mine safety legislation.
While the public outcry against this particular disaster is such that the companies will probably not get off scot-free, as many safety-violating coal operators have in the past, the recent history of fines at MSHA indicates that the final fines will be substantially reduced upon appeal.
The disclosures surrounding the Crandall Canyon disaster reflect such blatant disregard for the lives of miners that even one of the most prominent capitalist news organizations, the New York Times, has editorially called for a criminal investigation into the tragedy. In that way the families of the dead Crandall Canyon miners can at least receive that small measure of justice.
Published by News and Letters Committees