Our View: Safety must be the focus of the energy issue
No one who has ever worked in a coal mine or a coke plant needs to be told that coal is a dirty business.
Always has been, always will be.
Occasionally, as was the case this week when 12 coal miners died as a result of an explosion in a mine near Tallmansville, W.Va., the dangers of the industry are made painfully clear.
What is also painfully clear, despite an improving safety record, is that government oversight in the coal industry is embarrassingly insufficient.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration, a division of the Department of Labor, cited numerous violations at the West Virginia mine late last year. A legitimate question is whether federal or state regulations have any meaning at all if no substantive action is taken against the most egregious violators.
New Boston Coke anyone?
Long before its doors closed in 2002, the Ohio EPA reported that New Boston Coke polluted this area with levels of benzene that could only be matched by the world's unregulated polluters. Yet, the company continued to operate.
Although the Ohio EPA essentially crippled New Boston Coke Corp. financially, any reasonable person has to wonder what obstacles kept the plant from simply being shut down until improvements were made to ensure air quality.
The cries of an economic fallout from local leaders were heard and economic prosperity, short-lived as it turned out, was given more credence than the safety of workers and citizens. That compromise is often what leads to tragedies like the one in West Virginia.
If the government has genuine interest in improving safety, and coal's viability, there must first be the recognition that the financial well-being of industrial companies must coexist with strict adherence to regulation and public health. The latter cannot be compromised.
Straightforward changes in law and in attitude are the only sufficient remedies for a government that is too soft on violators.