According to a Huffington Post article, Lawmakers in Kentucky and West Virginia are handing over regulatory control of coal mining companies to the federal government. The Kentucky bill, which was approved by State legislators and is expected to be signed by Governor Matt Bevin, would reduce the amount of state-run inspections and would replace other inspections with safety analyses, which do not carry the threat of fines. Specifically, electrical inspections have been reduced by half, going from two to one. In West Virginia, legislation has been introduced that would effectively do away with inspections altogether, replacing them with what are known as “compliance visits.” Compliance visits would result in citations only if there was “an immediate danger,” according to the Huffington Post. Chances are good that the West Virginia bill will make it through the Statehouse and arrive on the desk of Democrat Governor Jim Justice who is a wealthy coal operator.
Letting the Federal Government Take Over
The rationale behind these measures is that the Mine Safety and Health Administration (a branch of the US Labor Department) already carries out four inspections per year, making it redundant for the state to run its own inspections. However, under the current administration and a GOP-led Congress, several coal mining regulations are under fire. Trump has already signed a bill that rescinds an Obama-era rule restricting coal mining companies from dumping waste into nearby streams. Another rule was repealed that required coal companies to disclose all money paid to foreign governments. Also, it’s no secret that Trump favors coal mine operators. At a campaign event in Pennsylvania he said, “I have friends that own the mines. I mean, they can’t live.” The President proved he had such friends when he appointed Wilbur Ross as Commerce Secretary. Ross is a billionaire who once owned the Sago Mine in West Virginia. That’s the same mine that exploded in 2012, killing 12 people. It should be noted that the deaths of the miners were not initially reported by the company, intensifying the grief of the family members and surrounding community, according to a New York Times article.
Additionally, it’s puzzling that a state like West Virginia would want to reduce inspections when, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, “West Virginia led the nation in coal-mining deaths last year and we’ve seen two coal miners — including one working at one of the governor’s operations — die on the job so far in 2017.” Filling 106 pages, Senate Bill 582 is wide reaching and according to Ken Ward, Jr., at the Charleston Gazette-Mail, it is “’breathtaking’ in the extent to which [it] essentially eliminates any meaningful role” of state regulatory agencies.
The Miner’s Perspective
But how will this affect the worker, the miner in the shaft? Just look at the Upper Big Branch explosion in 2010 that killed 29 miners in West Virginia. Massey Energy, the company that owned the mine, had a long history of safety violations. Additionally, the CEO, Don Blankenship, was sentenced to a year in prison for his role in those violations. Or consider the fact that the influence of labor unions like the United Mine Workers of America has lessened due to the financial troubles of the industry, according to the Atlantic. Moreover, although coal miners voted for Trump, they are now worried about the imminent demise of Obamacare, as laid out in Trump’s recent budget proposal. People like Andrew Adkins already have trouble paying for their life-supporting medicine, according to a Reuters article. Thus, without the protection of a strong union, without the support of healthcare and without meaningful regulations, the life of a coal miner could be made far more difficult.