What Could Go Wrong?

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

Lawmakers in West Virginia are considering legislation that would eliminate virtually all enforcement of coal-mining safety regulations.

I shouldn't laugh, but one measure included in the industry-backed bill, Senate Bill 582, made me audibly guffaw.

From the Charleston Gazette-Mail:

State safety inspectors wouldn’t inspect West Virginia’s coal mines anymore. They would conduct “compliance visits and education.”

Violations of health and safety standards wouldn’t produce state citations and fines, either. Mine operators would receive “compliance assistance visit notices.”

And West Virginia regulators wouldn’t have authority to write safety and health regulations. Instead, they could only “adopt policies ... [for] improving compliance assistance” in the state’s mines.

None of that is funny, but this part got me.

Various lobbyists and advocates, even many lawmakers, are still trying to sort out and understand its many provisions, which range from language rewriting the state’s program for holding mine operators responsible for cleaning up abandoned strip mines and properly classifying streams that are trout waters to consolidating existing state mine safety boards into one panel and creating a new mandate for state-funded mine rescue teams.

Of course, the state may need dedicated rescue teams if safety inspectors aren't allowed to inspect mines or issue fines for safety violations. Inspectors apparently wouldn't even be allowed issue notifications of safety violations under the bill.

The audacity is unavoidably comedic because, for fuck's sake, this places the financial burden of responding to preventable disasters exclusively on state taxpayers. And, needless to say, it costs significantly more money to respond to a disaster than it does to prevent disasters from occurring in the first place.

And it gets worse.

According to the Gazzette-Mail, the bill would hold individual employees of mining companies responsible for violations and disasters while shielding owners and operators.

None of this is going to resurrect the coal industry. This isn't going to bring back jobs. No one wants to die in a coal mine for poverty wages. This will shield exploitative companies and owners from virtually all responsibility as the last remnants of their industry wither and die. And what a mess they're going to leave behind.

No one is Making America Great Again here.

  • Aynwrong

    I hate to sound this coarse, but this is what they voted for.

    • David Greenberg

      Agreed, I bet you’d have a hard time finding a coal industry worker who didn’t vote Trump.

      • ninjaf

        Even on the Bernie town hall on MSNBC the other night, there was a former coal miner on there looking forward to the opportunities that should be coming back from coal. smdh

  • muselet

    Erm, who the hell would sign on to be part of a mine rescue team when the mines would be unregulated? Good lord, that job would be like juggling chainsaws in the dark while wearing oven mitts.

    Coal is on its deathbed. Let the industry go the way of the whale oil business. It’s the merciful thing to do.


    • The coal companies are bound and determined to take their workers to the graves with them apparently. I bet they sure are glad they voted for Drumpf.

      • Aynwrong

        I don’t know if coal miners are happy they voted for Drumpf, but I’m certain Coal CEOs are.

      • muselet

        I think I’ve said before that the people of West Virginia have been told they and their state are good for one thing and one thing only—mining coal—for so long they’ve internalized the malarkey.

        That’s an overgeneralization (it’s the internet, of course it’s an overgeneralization), but I maintain there’s some truth to it. Less than 3% of West Virginians work in Mining and Logging (BLS numbers here)—less than half as many as work in Leisure & Hospitality and less than one-sixth as many as work in Education & Health Services—and yet West Virginians will go to the polls and vote for anyone who makes the right noises about coal.

        Coal is an awful fuel. Its extraction is ugly and polluting and dangerous, burning it releases an astonishing number of toxic materials (not to mention lots of our old friend carbon dioxide), and the residue after it’s been burned is seriously hazardous. The sooner we stop using it, the better for us all.

        I sympathize with the plight of the people who will lose their jobs, but the cost of coal is simply too high.


        • JMAshby

          I think some people like the idea of bringing back a terrible industry like coal because that was the last time their state was economically vibrant. But I’m not sure even that is true. Was West Virginia ever really an economic powerhouse? Was Eastern Kentucky ever a good place to live and raise a family or make economic progress? The former I can’t answer, but the latter I can, and the answer is no.

          The movement to gut environmental regulation and safety won’t improve anyone’s economic situation, it will only kill people.

          • Ceoltoir

            States that were totally dependent upon extractive industries have never been economically powerful. They frequently required people desperate enough to do the work and live in a poisoned environment. But people are nostalgic and don’t want there “way of life” to go away.

  • Christopher Foxx

    State safety inspectors wouldn’t inspect West Virginia’s coal mines anymore. They would conduct “compliance visits and education.”