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Massey Energy Tone Deaf on the Anniversary of the Upper Big Branch Mine Explosion

One year ago today, 29 coal miners died in an explosion at a Massey Energy mine in West Virginia. It could have been prevented.

One year ago today, the worst mine explosion in 40 years tore through two miles of the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. Twenty-nine Massey Energy employees were killed.

Despite the fact that the mine had a long history of safety violations (over 3,000 since 1995, and 57 in the month before the explosion alone), and widespread evidence and reporting that the explosion could have been prevented, Massey Chairman Bobby Inman said yesterday that he believed that this was a "natural disaster" that couldn't have been prevented.

Whether it was a natural disaster, as we believe, or whether it was other causes that could have been prevented, as the leaks (by investigators) would cause you to believe, you lost those lives, and for the families nothing can replace that.

"As we believe." Not the time, Bobby.

On this occasion, it's worth revisiting a great piece by Jeff Biggers, who has been researching and covering the coal fields for ages, about "What Killed the Miners." Long story short: Massey put profits over safety.

Need proof? Consider this 2006 internal memo from then-CEO Don Blankenship that perfectly illustrates the culture at Massey that created the conditions for the Upper Big Branch explosion:

If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal (i.e. - build overcasts, do construction jobs, or whatever) you need to ignore them and run coal...This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that coal pays the bills.

Biggers' grandfather, a coal miner, used to tell him reguarly, "All coal mining safety laws have been written in miners' blood." There was hope, at the time of the disaster, that Upper Big Branch would lead to much stricter safety regulations and oversight. Unfortunately, one year later, that seems to be all talk and little action.

Today, remember the miners. (This moving Washington Post slideshow is worth watching.) Tomorrow, pick up the fight for those that still toil every day in dreadful, dangerous conditions, their bosses putting profit before safety.

Photo: Charleston Gazette

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