Posts Tagged ‘mining’


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Special mention

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Jean Ritchie, who brought hundreds of traditional songs from her native Appalachia to a wide audience and wrote additional songs, especially about the disasters of coal mining—”and in the process helped ignite the folk song revival of the mid-twentieth century—died on Monday at her home in Berea, Kentucky.

Here are the lyrics to her “Black Waters”:

I come from the mountains, Kentucky’s my home,
Where the wild deer and black bear so lately did roam;
By cool rushing waterfalls the wildflowers dream,
And through every green valley there runs a clear stream.
Now there’s scenes of destruction on every hand
And only black waters run down through my land.

Sad scenes of destruction on every hand,
Black waters, black waters, run down through my land.

O the quail, she’s a pretty bird, she sings a sweet tongue;
In the roots of tall timbers she nests with her young.
But the hillside explodes with the dynamite’s roar,
And the voices of the small birds will sound there no more;
And the hillsides come a—sliding so awful and grand,
And the flooding black waters rise over my land.

Sad scenes of destruction on every hand;
Black waters, black waters run down through the land.

In the rising of the springtime we planted our corn,
In the ending of the springtime we buried a son,
In summer come a nice man, said, “Everything’s fine—
My employer just requires a way to his mine”—
Then they threw down my mountain and covered my corn,
And the grave on the hillside’s a mile deeper down,
And the man stands and talks with his hat in his hand
As the poisonous water spreads over my land.

Sad scenes of destruction on every hand;
Black waters, black waters run down through the land.

Well, I ain’t got no money and not much of a home;
I own my own land, but my land’ s not my own.
But if I had ten million – somewheres thereabouts—
I would buy Perry County and I’d run ’em all out!
Set down on the bank with my bait in my can,
And just watch the clear waters run down through my land!

Well, wouldn’t that be like the old Promised Land?
Black waters, black waters no more in my land!

“West Virginia Mine Disaster” was another of her original songs, performed here by Betsy Rutherford:

And here are the lyrics:

Say, did you see him walking? it was early this morning
He passed by your house on his way to the coal
He was tall, he was slender, and his blue eyes so tender
His occupation was miner, West Virginia his home

It was just about noon, I was feeding the children
Ben Moseley come running for to give us the news
Number eight is all flooded, many men are in danger
And we don’t know their number, but we fear they’re all doomed

So I picked up the baby and I left all the others
For to comfort each other and pray for our own
There’s Timmy, fourteen, and there’s John not much younger
Soon their own time will be coming to go down the black hole

Now if I had the money to do more than just feed them
I’d give them good learning, the best could be found
And when they grew up they’d be checkers and weighers
And not spend their life drilling in the dark underground

And it’s what will I tell to my three little children?
And what will I tell his dear mother at home?
And it’s what will I tell to my poor heart that’s dying?
My heart that’s surely dying since my darling is gone

Say, did you see him walking? it was early this morning
He passed by your house on his way to the coal
He was tall, he was slender, and his blue eyes so tender
His occupation was miner, West Virginia his home

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According to the New York Times,

Although [Donald L.] Blankenship now lives in Las Vegas, his primary residence was once in Mingo County, where he grew up and built a mansion with a helipad in one of West Virginia’s poorest communities. He piped in clean drinking water to his home even as neighbors sued Massey for poisoning the local wells.


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.


In the world imagined by neoclassical economists, workers are simply free to stay at or leave their jobs. What doesn’t exist in their models is a worker who tries to do the right thing—and then suffers the consequences.

Mackie Bailey [ht: db] is one such worker—a Kentucky miner who provided information about dangerous practices at an underground coal mine in Harlan County where a man was crushed to death in June 2011 (for which the company and three supervisors pleaded guilty in federal court).* Bailey is now facing a complaint filed by the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing for taking part in the dangerous activities he reported to state and federal regulators.

To Bailey and his attorney, that’s an injustice, not just because supervisors ordered Bailey to do unsafe work, but because his information helped convict the people responsible.

“They’re trying to punish the whistle-blower,” said Bailey’s attorney, Tony Oppegard, who previously worked as a federal mine-safety official and as a prosecutor in the state mine-safety agency.


*The photo above shows Bailey operating a roof-bolting machine at the Manalapan Mining Co.’s P-1 mine in 2011.

Israel's Vision for a Palestinian State

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