A massive explosion ripped through the Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia on Monday, killing 25 miners and leaving 6 others missing and presumed dead. The mine had an egregious record of health and safety violations. Peter Rothberg of The Nation writes:
The US Mine Safety and Health Administration cited the mine for 1,342 safety violations from 2005 through Monday for a total of $1.89 million in proposed fines, according to federal records. The company has contested 422 of those violations, totaling $742,830 in proposed penalties, according to federal officials. Massey Energy is actively contesting millions of dollars of fines for safety violations at its West Virginia coal mine where disaster struck yesterday afternoon.
Nick Baumann of Mother Jones reports that company that owns the mine, Massey Energy, has been fined over $400,000 this year for allowing flammable gas and coal dust to build up inside the mine. Investigators suspect that just such a buildup caused the blast. Aaron Weiner of the Washington Independent observed that Massey’s website was trumpeting 2009 as “another record setting year for safety.”
This week’s blast was a tragic illustration a longstanding problem. Jeff Biggers, himself a coal miner’s grandson, writes in AlterNet that all mine safety laws are “written in in the blood of coal miners.” Over 104,000 workers have died in America’s coal mines over the industry’s history. Furthermore:
Three coal miners still die daily from black lung disease–one of the most flagrant safety issues and scandals overlooked in our nation.
Suspect Charged Over Death Threats to Senator
In other health news, Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly reports that a Yakima man has been arrested and charged with threatening the life of Sen. Patti Murray (D-Wash) over the passage of the health care bill. The FBI alleges that Charles Wilson left multiple anonymous death threats on Murray’s office voicemail system. According to the criminal complaint federal agents tracked Wilson down by tracing his home phone number. Note to stupid criminals, just because the person you’re calling can’t see your blocked number doesn’t make it invisible to phone company, or the FBI.
According to the criminal complaint, a special agent called Wilson posing as a member of Patients United Now. The real Patients United Now (PUN) is a project of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a major right wing anti-reform group. Normally the FBI gets permission from real, active organizations before impersonating their members, but as I report for AlterNet, the FBI didn’t get permission from AFP or PUN to use PUN’s name as cover. That’s a bit disturbing, in my opinion, if only because it’s likely to fuel suspicions of anti-government conspiracy theorists. Still, it’s ironic that FBI astroturfed the astroturfers to catch Wilson.
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