Coal Mining Disaster Raises Questions About Company

By JYOTHI NATARAJAN

Coal on its way to being processed from a mine. PHOTO: Arnoldius from wikimedia
Coal from a mine, on its way to being processed. PHOTO: Arnoldius from wikimedia

On April 5, 2010, an explosion at Massey Energy Company’s Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia killed 29 mine workers. The explosion is the worst mining disaster in the United States in over 25 years.

Coal mining is the process of removing coal from the ground so it can be used to create electricity. Coal mining comes with great risks to both humans and the environment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, mining is the second most dangerous occupation in the United States (the most dangerous is commercial farming and forestry). Scientists have confirmed that the release of the greenhouse gas methane into our atmosphere during coal mining and processing is speeding up global warming, and sludge (the mud brought up by a mining drill) continues to pollute waterways.

The Upper Big Branch coal mine has refused to allow its workers to form a union. Labor leader Kimberly Freeman Brown said in an interview with truthout.org that without a union “workers feel more vulnerable [helpless] about losing their jobs and less confident about expressing their concerns about safety.”

According to the Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the Upper Big Branch mine has had over 1,300 safety violations since 2005. Massey Energy Company has been fined almost $2 million since 2005, but it has challenged many of these fines and had them canceled by MSHA.

Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO (a union of workers), said in an official statement that “many mining companies have given too little attention to safety over the years and too much to the bottom line.”