Since April 2010, I’ve been writing about the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster that killed 29 out of 31 miners at the site.
Today, I’m pleased to report that the former chief executive of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, has been indicted on charges including conspiracy to violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and securities fraud. Blankenship could face up to 31 years in prison if convicted.
That’s good news. However, as Ken Ward Jr. reminds us, coal mining continues to kill people, “most notably the workers who toil to mine it.”
Politicians and media pundits often conveniently forget that fact when they’re chattering away about the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rules on coal-fired power plants or the latest study showing climate change’s impact on sea level rise.
Major mining disasters get a lot attention, especially if they involve heroic rescue efforts, with worried families gathered at a local church and quick-hit stories about long lists of safety violations and inadequate enforcement.
But most coal miners die alone, one at a time, either in roof falls or equipment accidents or — incredibly in this day and age — from black lung, a deadly but preventable disease that most Americans probably think is a thing of the past. Coal-mining disasters get historic markers. Black lung deaths just get headstones.