Chao's Labor Department Now Supports Miners' Air-Packs After Killing Regulation Five Years Ago
After the tragic deaths of fourteen coal miners in separate incidents over the last month, due in large part to mining company negligence and the Bush Administration’s “pay to play” approach to regulating the industry, the Mine Safety and Health Administration this morning reversed an industry-instigated decision from four years ago and has now decided to require spare emergency breathing equipment in coal mines, mirroring what the Clinton Administration planned to require.
With blood on their hands, I guess it is better late than never for Elaine Chao and her Labor Department. But tell that to the families of those killed in these preventable accidents.
Federal mine safety officials four years ago axed a requirement to stock coal mines with spare emergency air masks to protect miners from poisonous gases.
Now they say that workers are in “grave danger” without the breathing devices.
After back-to-back mining accidents in West Virginia that killed 14 men last month, the Bush administration is reviving a rule that would require the added supplies of the masks and the training to use them.
Without those requirements, which were killed eight months into President Bush’s first term in 2001, officials at the Mine Safety and Health Administration now warn that coal miners “face serious physical injury and death,” according to a draft of the proposed regulation obtained by Knight Ridder.
Investigators think that the two deaths in the Jan. 12 accident at the Aracoma Alma mine may have been caused, at least in part, by difficulty in donning breathing devices, a source said Tuesday.
In 1999, the agency proposed strengthening standards on breathing devices, including requiring mines to stock caches of extra rescue devices and conduct more frequent hands-on training in how to use them.
By September 2001, the Bush administration withdrew the draft rule, citing “"esource constraints and changing safety and health regulatory priorities."
Did you get that? At a time of Clinton-era budget surpluses, the Bush Administration killed the rule because of a lack of resources and changing priorities towards worker safety, several months after pushing through the first of their tax giveaways to the wealthy. It should also be noted that the Bush Administration’s decision to cancel the Clinton Administration’s pending regulation on the breathing equipment came after energy and mining interests met repeatedly with Dick Cheney and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham between January and May 2001 on the Energy Task Force and provided the new administration with their wish lists of things they wanted done, and after these same groups gave millions to the GOP since 1999. And also involved in these rollbacks of worker safety protections was none other than Grover Norquist’s and Gale Norton’s Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, (CREA) which was funded in large part by the mining and chemical industries, and an organization that Jack Abramoff funneled tribal money into.
The first Democrat who can tie Abramoff, Norton, the Cheney Energy Task Force, CREA, the mining industry officials Chao hired at Labor who rolled this and other rules back, and the cause of the recent deaths together into one narrative will have a compelling example of how the GOP and Bush Administration's pay-to-play approach to government is costing us the lives of Americans here at home.
It doesn't exonerate the UMW officials who supported Bush in 2000 because he promised more jobs and less regulation from their complicity in the degradation of worker safety, nor does it exonerate Robert Byrd or Jay Rockefeller for being asleep on mining safety issues for the last five years. But the UMW is now accountable to its members for its mistake, and Byrd and Rockefeller have been virtually powerless these last five years to do anything significant to fight this administration’s negligence.