Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Latest Mining Disaster

In mining a union doesn't just get people better wages and benefits. It saves lives. The mining industry had the ear of the Bush Administration, particularly with respect to ventilation (the lack of which caused the explosion in West Virginia). It was disappointing the find President Obama mourning the passing of the miners, when he should have been demanding that all miners have the rights of union miners to demand safe working conditions.

Update: There's been much note in the daily press that many of the violations at the Massey mine were "technical" and "minor." There's no such thing as a technical or minor violation in mining. Any one of those technical and minor violations can lead to a major disaster, and major disasters almost always result in death. (We're leaving aside the major violations at the mine, many of which were ventilation system violations, which were so numerous and serious that the mine should have been shut down long since.)

The peculiarity of this brush-off comes from two sources. The first is that sloppiness is okay if it saves money. It's not so bad in, say, copy-editing (my own pet peeve), as a misplaced hyphen or misspelled word or missing paragraph isn't likely to kill anyone. The second is the pervasive view that government over-regulates, and that many rules and regulations should be abolished. This may be true in those agencies where the poor are being regulated. The cost of regulation is often far greater than any savings that would be realized. But regulation of the rich is a whole different matter. And in mining the regulations come from experience. Coal dust was only recognized as a combustible, for instance, when coal dust build-up in a Japanese mine caused a fire that killed 1,200 miners.

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