Friday, January 18, 2008

"Massey's in de coal, coal ground" (apologies to Stephen Foster)

Since the satirical piece I did several days ago on "big coal" vs. the Kroger Co. drew some fire, I thought I'd follow up with another, more serious piece. Not too lengthy, but it paints a picture of how far big coal spreads its influence, and how they spread it.

For starters, Bush stuck his finger in the eye of the Senate again a few weeks ago when he appointed Richard Stickler Acting Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, bypassing Senate confirmation as he has done so many times already.

Secondly, the Massey Energy CEO and a West Virginia Supreme Court justice "accidentally" met several times in Monte Carlo while both men were "coincidentally" vacationing there at the same time in 2006. "Coincidentally", Massey Energy was appealing a $50 million judgement (other sources cite a figure of $76.3 million) against them in a suit brought by a defunct coal company, and the appeal "just happened" to be in front of the W VA Supreme court at the time. Not long after the two met, the jurist "coincidentally"voted with the majority in a 3-2 decision overturning the judgement. Pays to have friends in high places, huh?

Thirdly, Massey Energy only yesterday agreed to pay a $30 million fine after negotiating with the EPA over 4,500 waste discharge violations committed over a seven year period. Really a pittance, considering the liability could have been as high as $2.4 billion. That fine was nothing more than a empty gesture.

Coal is a dirty form of energy, but the business practices of the mine owners are even dirtier. The miners themselves depend on their jobs to earn a living, and God bless 'em all for working in the conditions they do, but they don't have much choice as long as their crooked bosses are allowed to carry on with impunity. We need a government which will finally act in the interests of the miners and force the owners to either abide by the law or go away forever.

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