Whitesburg KY
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Memo to OMSL

What does it take to get through to the state Office of Mine Safety & Licensing?

Would a note from the first floor of the Capitol do it?

Four times the agency has tried to push past the Mine Safety Review Commission a settlement of the case in which 29-year-old David “Bud” Morris bled to death, while H & D Mining co-owner Gary Wayne Bentley, the only person in the immediate vicinity who was trained in the appropriate points of first aid, stood aside.

Finally, the commission has told OMSL, in effect, to charge Mr. Bentley not as a mine emergency technician, employed by H & D, but as one of the mine’s owners. That would make possible a significant fine. It also could bar him from owning or operating a mine, if he were found to have put Mr. Morris in imminent danger by intentionally violating the law.

Given the dangers inherent in mining, it’s astonishing that this kind of enforcement copout would be tolerated. By this time, somebody at OMSL should have heard from somebody in the Governor’s office, insisting that regulators do their job.

Industry spokesmen relentlessly claim that there are more than enough rules on the books, if only they are sensibly applied. But every time government attempts to get tough, by actually enforcing mine safety regulations and environmental rules, industry alarmists shout the same jeremiads: “You’ll shut mining down!” “You’ll destroy the coalfield economy!” “You’ll turn out the lights and shut off the power in the flatlands!”

What happened to Bud Morris, when his legs were nearly severed below the knees by a loaded 30-ton coal-hauling machine, should have produced not just public outrage but also government crackdown. So far, all his widow has seen is regulatory breakdown.

At the federal level, the Bush administration delights its coal industry campaign givers with the soft sophistry of “compliance assistance,” overseen by Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and her underlings. Husband Mitch McConnell, the leader of the congressional delegation from Kentucky, which has the nation’s largest number of coal mines, leaves it to others to condemn the shortcomings of the feds. Expect no change, unless the 2008 election forces it.

In Frankfort, a new governor now has the opportunity to appoint people who will get tough with coal industry rule-breakers by simply enforcing the rules.

– The Courier-Journal, Louisville

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