You are hereThe Nation: 29 Miners and Massey's Coal Crimes

The Nation: 29 Miners and Massey's Coal Crimes

-By Katrina vanden Heuvel

June 26, 2011- Update: Today, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) concurred with the independent investigation regarding the causes of the mining explosion and the fact that Massey could have prevented it. Even more damning evidence against Massey: it kept two sets of books—one it shared with regulators revealing few, if any, safety problems, and one it maintained internally which revealed the kinds of hazards believed to have caused the explosion.

"If a coal mine wants to keep two sets of books, that's their own business," said Kevin Stricklin, coal administrator for MSHA. “They can keep five sets of books if they want. But what they’re required to do is list all the hazards in the official book.”

In the name of these 29 miners--end business as usual. Revoke Massey’s charter today.

It was Easter Weekend 2010 when 33-year-old Gary Quarles—a skilled miner with 14 years experience and a father of two— and an “up and coming” miner, Nicolas McCroskey, 26, were having dinner with a friend. They said that “something bad was going to happen” at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine where they worked.

That Sunday, Quarles also confided in a close friend he’d known since childhood.

“I’m just scared to go back to work,” he said. “Man, they got us up there mining and we ain’t got no air. You can’t see nothing. I’m just scared to death something bad is going to happen.”

The next day, a powerful explosion tore through two and one-half miles of the mine, killing Quarles, McCroskey, and 27 of their fellow miners. Men like Carl Acord, 52, who had worked the mines for 34 years and was a proud member of the “Old Man Crew”; Jason Adkins, 25, who had won all-state honors in football and basketball in high school; Cory Davis, 20, who had followed his family into the mines; US army veteran Steven Harrah, 40, devoted to his wife and six-year old son; Dean Jones, 50, leaving behind his wife and a son with cystic fibrosis; Roosevelt Lynch, 59, a miner for over 30 years and a substitute teacher, as well as a basketball, football, and track coach; Vietnam vet Benny Willingham, 61, a coal miner for 30 years who was five weeks away from retirement; and so many more.

Of the 29 men killed, 19 died as a result of carbon monoxide intoxication and 10 as a result of injuries suffered in the explosion.

One week later, former Governor Joe Manchin asked J. Davitt McAteer, an Assistant Secretary of Labor in charge of mine safety in the Clinton Administration, to conduct an independent investigation into the causes of the disaster and issue recommendations to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

McAteer and his colleagues—experts in coal mining, mining law, mining communities, and occupational safety and public health—released their report last month after conducting underground investigations for over six months and conducting more than 300 interviews. Eighteen corporate officials from Massey Energy and its subsidiary Performance Coal—which ran the UBB mine—invoked the Fifth, declining to be interviewed in order to protect from self-incrimination.

Although it received insufficient media attention, the 126-page Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel (GIIP) report released last month is damning in its conclusion: “Ultimately, the responsibility for the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine lies with the management of Massey Energy. The company broke faith with its workers by frequently and knowingly violating the law and blatantly disregarding known safety practices.”

The investigation concludes that the explosion occurred when a spark—which occurs frequently when cutting coal due to friction—ignited an explosive accumulation of methane, causing a fireball. The fireball in turn ignited coal dust that had been allowed to build up, and the coal dust carried the explosion throughout more than two miles of the mine.

Massey’s blatant disregard for safety had created a perfect storm.



Backbone Campaign
Liberty Tree
Progressive Democrats of America
Peoples Email Network
Justice Through Music
Locust Fork Journal
Berkeley Fellowship UU\'s Social Justice Committee
The Smirking Chimp
Progressive Democrats Sonoma County
Center for Media and Democracy
Chelsea Neighbors United
Atlanta Progressive News
Yes Men
No Nukes North