Saturday, April 5, 2008

"Undue Influence" at Crandall Canyon?

"Undue Influence" at Crandall Canyon?

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The tales of regulatory negligence by the Bush administration never seem to end. An investigation into the death of six coal miners and three would-be rescuers last summer in Utah faults the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration for failing to properly oversee the high-risk mining technique that led to the collapse of the Crandall Canyon Mine.

The finding, by the Labor Department's inspector general, presents a stark warning of possible future disasters now that the coal industry is booming. Companies are increasingly turning to the riskier production methods used at Crandall Canyon - techniques that demand more aggressive vigilance to ensure miners' safety.

The mine agency lacked a rigorous oversight plan required by law to monitor roof safety at Crandall Canyon as workers there conducted "retreat mining" - winnowing coal pillars bracing the mine ceiling - to extract as much coal as possible. Mining-induced seismic jolts eventually obliterated these supports.

The Bush administration's patronage-driven penchant for appointing industry executives to regulate their own industry is well known. So are the costs. In the Crandall Canyon investigation, the inspector general pointedly questioned whether the mine agency was "free from undue influence by the mine operator."

The finding is yet another reason why Congress must urgently pass a mine safety bill that would mandate more stringent oversight of retreat mining and other needed reforms. The bill has been approved by the House. The Senate's companion measure must not be delayed by pro-industry lawmakers willing to put more lives at risk for the sake of Big Coal's bottom line.

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