Not Enough Is Being Done To Make Mines Safe, Former MSHA Chief Says

It's a grim scene outside the Big Branch Coal Mine in Montcoal, W.Va., NPR's Brian Naylor says. With 25 miners already dead after a explosion yesterday and rescue efforts temporarily halted because it's too dangerous to try to get to four others who might still be alive somewhere down in the tunnels, the people there are suffering greatly.

Brian adds that the Massey Energy mine has a "checkered" safety record. As this story compiled by says:

"The cause of the explosion is still not known, but safety officials say the Massey Energy Co.'s mine in the town of Montcoal, about 30 miles south of Charleston, has been cited in the past for failing to properly vent methane. In recent years, three people have died in accidents at the mine, which produced over a million tons of coal last year."

Meanwhile, West Virginia Public Radio's Keri Brown filed a story today about the concerns expressed by Davitt McAteer, who ran the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration in the Clinton administration and led an investigation into the January 2006 Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia that left 12 men dead.

According to McAteer, "we're not doing enough" to make the nation's coal mines safe. Most, he says, don't have fully operating communications systems and many don't take adequate precautions against the types of methane explosions that likely occurred yesterday.

Here is Brian's latest conversation with Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep:



And here is audio of McAteer's comments on West Virginia Public Radio:



Update at 11:10 a.m. ET: writes that "a federal audit released just days before a massive explosion killed 25 coal miners in West Virginia found that the country's top mine safety agency was not adequately retraining its veteran inspectors, even as hundreds of new inspectors were being hired."

The report from that audit by the U.S. Deprtment of Labor's Office of Inspector General is posted here. It states that:

"During fiscal years (FY) 2007-2008, MSHA increased the number of inspectors by 26 percent and provided initial training to more than 350 entry-level inspectors. However, 56 percent of the 102 journeyman inspectors we sampled had not completed MSHA's required retraining during the FY 2006-2007 training cycle. MSHA lacked controls to track and assure completion of required periodic retraining by journeyman inspectors, and there were no consequences for not attending retraining courses."



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.