Op-Ed

Ky. Voices: Congress cares more about Big Coal's profits than miners' safety

On April 5, 2010, 29 miners died in an explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine. But Congress reacts by doing nothing to improve safety. The Republicans in Congress cringe at the mere thought of new safety improvements, because Big Coal insists they will increase coal prices and reduce profits. If Big Coal's profits decrease, so does its Republican congressional constituents' profits.

Throughout the remainder of 2010 indications were nothing would be done to help our coal miners until after the 2010 elections. Simply put, the Republican Congress does not want undue financial burdens on Big Coal. In other words, money is more important than protecting our miners.

The 2010 November elections came and went, yet Congress remained consistent. Nothing was done to protect our miners.

On Dec. 8, 2010, mine safety reform was finally laid to rest. Big Coal and the Republican Congress could breathe much easier and focus on profits instead of mine safety reform costs. Congress blocked a new reform bill. I was not surprised, just extremely saddened and disappointed.

In 2011, our "do-nothing" Congress came through again and did absolutely nothing, for our nation's miner's safety. It did this while standing by as 21 coal miners died during 2011. Eight of those deaths, the largest recorded number from any state, were from our state of Kentucky.

It's now January 2012, 21 months after UBB and Congress continues to do nothing. A total of 38 coal mine deaths have been recorded since the 2010 tragedy.

I live in the very heart of coal mining country, Harlan County, in the district of U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers, who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He does not support new mine safety reform to help protect the coal miners in the district he supposedly represents. Rogers was named, "Coal Miner of the Year for 2010" by the Kentucky Coal Operators Association. It's such a shame they would not recognize even one of thousands of hard-working Kentucky coal miners.

Sen. Rand Paul also does not support mine safety reform. Paul says mine safety should be dealt with on a local basis and that miners would not work at an unsafe mine. Since former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has indicated he might soon mine in southeastern Kentucky, he would be considered a "local."

I was an underground coal miner for 41 years. Many miners would work anywhere we could in order to feed our families. It is just so depressing that our nation's miners must continue to work in unsafe conditions that could be corrected by Congress. The GOP voted down mine safety. They told our miners they are not worth what it would cost Big Coal to operate safely. It's an insult to our coal miners and to the memories of miners who have given their lives for a block of coal.

It seems to me that our present legislators and Big Coal have forgotten all the blood-soaked coal that it took to pass the 1977 Mine Act. I think they have forgotten the section of the Mine Act that declares "the first priority and the concern of all in the coal or other mining industry must be the health and safety of its most precious resource, the miner."

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