It’s been said that all you need to be a coal miner is a “strong back and a weak mind.” Evidently many of Kentucky’s legislators, the governor and most coal industry officials have started banking on this old cliché, at least for the past few years.
Just as the 2017 regular session was ending, a majority of legislators approved House Bill 384, “an act relating to mine safety,” sponsored by Rep. Robert Benvenuti III, R-Lexington.
Gov. Matt Bevin signed it March 21.
Like Senate Bill 297 the year before, this bill further reduces the number of safety and electrical inspections for each Kentucky coal mine and brings the Kentucky coal industry another step closer to the elimination of all state mine inspections, a goal that seems to have been shared for many years by the coal industry and its bought-and-paid-for Kentucky legislators.
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Tyler White, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, said HB 384 “is going to make coal miners more safe.” If buffoons like White, Kentucky’s legislators, governor and all who support King Coal agree on such nonsense, why do we continue to have more accidents and fatalities?
In my opinion HB 384 should have been called “an act relating to another step closer to getting rid of all Kentucky mine safety and health laws.”
The Kentucky legislature, KCA, coal industry and Bevin are recklessly determined to destroy laws that have been written in our miners’ blood over many decades.
Sadly, on March 30, yet another coal fatality occurred, this one at a Whitley County strip mine. Joseph Partin was killed when a “highwall” section fell on him.
Bevin responded by asking people to pray for Whitley County and saying, “Though we are not all from Whitley County, we are part of the special community that is Kentucky. Let the family members, friends and coworkers of this young miner draw strength from our outpouring of support and love from across the Commonwealth during this trying time. United we stand, divided we fall.”
The hurtful irony in Bevin’s statement concerning Partin’s death, was it too little, too late?
I hate to think what it will now take to reverse our state leaders’ and coal industry managers’ way of thinking when it comes to really protecting our coal miners.
Heaven forbid anymore mine disasters in Kentucky such as another Finley explosion, Dec. 1970 (38 dead); Scotia explosions, March 1976 (26 dead); Atkins No. 11 explosion, Dec. 1981 (eight dead); RFH No. 1 explosion, Jan. 1982 (seven dead); Pyro No. 9 explosion, Sept. 1989 (10 dead); Kentucky Darby No. 1 explosions, May 2006 (five dead).
These multiple-fatality accidents (five or more deaths) occurred since 1970 in Kentucky — 94 Kentucky miners dead.
I think at this point we can all agree there is no “war on coal.” The real war is on our Kentucky coal miners and the mine safety laws that are the only lifeline to a safe workplace.
One last thought, to all those involved in helping get HB 384 passed this year and SB 297 last year, what in heaven’s name were you thinking when you helped to accomplish this? One thing for certain, it was not our Kentucky coal miners’ health and safety.
Stanley Sturgill of Lynch is a retired underground coal miner and federal mine safety inspector.