by Nathan Fetty

An editorial in today’s New York Times is the latest media piece about the abysmal failures surrounding last summer’s Crandall Canyon mine disaster in Utah.  Now that investigators have revealed how the company knew of the mine’s dangers, the Times says, a criminal probe is in order. Plus, MSHA’s deference to the company’s flawed engineering plan only made matters worse.
Clearly, as the Times points out, MSHA’s aversion to hands-on enforcement has led to disastrous consequences.

The New York Times’ editorial: Greed Above, Death Below or (full PDF) reminds readers of why a criminal probe is called for:

“…investigators have detailed how greedy mine operators concealed danger warnings and literally chiseled underground pillar supports to the breaking point.”

“…management mined beyond safety limits to scrape extra coal profits from the floor and supports.  Compounding the tragedy, the company never alerted federal monitors to three earlier outbursts — the last only three days before the disaster — in which pressure from above caused coal to explode from winnowed supports.”

Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao’s MSHA does not avoid scathing criticism from the Times’ editors:

“Crandall Canyon provided a gross demonstration of regulators’ obeisance to the industry. This is a life-threatening flaw that has grown under the Bush administration’s pro-industry practices. ….The men buried in Crandall Canyon deserve justice.”

Letting the fox guard the henhouse resulted in nine miners’ deaths.  Now, it’s time for a wholly different approach. 

Nathan Fetty is an attorney in Buckhannon, W.Va. who works for the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, a non-profit law and policy organization. He focuses on mine health and safety issues.