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They’re Only Coal Miners

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"The hard-working miners, their dangers are great/Many while mining have met their sad fate/While doing their duties as miners all do/Shut out from the daylight and their darling ones, too."  Only a Miner – Traditional, author unknown

What’s a dollar worth to you? Cup of coffee, maybe a few sticks of gum. It’s just money, right? I know, I know, those of us lucky enough to have a job these days certainly work hard enough to scratch out what living we can make. So what’s a dollar worth to you? Cup of coffee? A few sticks of gum? A human life?

Well, we all know a human life is worth more than a dollar; in fact if we use the dollar amount of unpaid safety violations by Massey Energy company ($1.1 million in unpaid fines) we could argue that a human life is worth roughly just more than $380,000.

A step backwards: I presume to assume that at this point we all know who Massey Energy is. For the sake of clarity, Massey Energy is the owner of the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, which recently had a catastrophic failure killing 29 coal miners.

According to reporting done by the Louisville Courier Journal, since 2006, Massey Energy has been fined to the tune of $1.7 million for safety violations at the Upper Big Branch Facility, $1.1 million of which has gone unpaid as the company’s lawyers file appeal after appeal up the flag pole getting temporary stays. But that’s not the worst of it.

In a report issued by the House Education and Labor Committee, Massey Energy has appealed more citations by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration than any other mining operation in the country in 2009: 3,741 or roughly eight percent of all violations. Included in these violations were orders that would have shut down the Upper Big Branch mine, 16 of them in fact, every single one of them appealed and held up in the court process.

See, here’s what makes me so damn angry when I hear people getting all up in arms about government regulation — we’ve created a system that allows the foxes to guard the chicken coop, what with Congressional hallways chock full of industry titans making sure that whatever legislation is passed is watered down. The net affect is some PR flack can get on the air and talk about all the improvements to safety that have been made while somewhere in the back of his head, that same PR flack knows not a damn thing has changed!

In and of itself, regulating industries isn’t a bad thing, it isn’t a socialist thing, it isn’t a communist thing, it’s a human life thing. That one single miner died because this company appealed safety violation orders is a crime, a crime that should be punished.

So if you want to get angry because the energy lobby has a huge hand in writing energy policy or the lawyer's lobby is instrumental in writing tort reform, I’m right there with you. But if you start getting mad at regulation just because it’s regulation – you lost me.

When are we going to learn? In a purely capitalist society with no regulations labor is one of the cheapest, most expendable resources at a company’s disposal. Look, I’m not talking about your local mom and pop grocery store or the local bank that’s been in town for the last hundred years. No, I’m talking about the giants that walk amongst us, the Exxon Mobils, the JP Morgan Chases, the Massey Energys of the world – apple meet orange, orange meet apple … shake. It is against those companies' own self-interest to be honest brokers, to actually care about you, me, their customers or their employees.

Reread your history: there aren’t a whole lot of shining white knight examples out there on the company side of things. No, nearly every single change that’s ever been made to employee safety, consumer protection, and what have you is and was typically predicated by some sort of disaster. Sometimes people just lost their house but sometimes, they lost their dad, their son, their husband, their daughter or their mom.

So, what’s a dollar worth?

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About Mr. B

  • Exactly, the foxes guarding the chicken coop.

  • Benjamin


    I agree with you wholeheartedly thus one of the points i was trying to make was that the regulatory system was/is broke.

  • That’s where presidential injunction ought to have been used to circumvent the corrupt appeal process.

  • They should never have been allowed to operate with that many citations. The regulators are just as guilty as the owners.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Perfect stuff, Benjamin. Dead on.