MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY: President Obama talked about the tragedy today. Speaking in the Rose Garden, he said what miners' families already know, that coal mining is dangerous work.
OVERBY: But their government and their employer know that they owe it to these families to do everything possible to ensure their safety when they go to work each day.
OVERBY: The inspection reports indicate that the agency was watching closely at the Upper Big Branch South Mine. They just don't say if it was watching as closely or pushing as hard as it could have.
BLOCK: Rick Melberth is director of regulatory affairs at the watchdog group OMB Watch.
BLOCK: This isn't business as usual.
OVERBY: He's been comparing Upper Big Branch South to other mines around the country. And when it comes to enforcement - or lack of it - he says this mine is in a class by itself.
BLOCK: Because they don't seem to be changing their behavior in any way. There are huge mines out there that produce a lot more coal, have a lot more hours worked, and can operate without violations.
OVERBY: Here's the Mining Association's Luke Popovich.
BLOCK: I think they thought that it would be sort of tougher enforcement, to eliminate an opportunity for operators to have an early chance of knocking down or adjudicating these fines.
OVERBY: So with that alternative gone, more mining companies are fighting back when they get fined. Most of these challenges go to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. The new chairman, Mary Lu Jordan, told a congressional committee recently that the case load has skyrocketed.
BLOCK: Currently, there's a backlog of approximately 16,000.
OVERBY: But critics say that's not the whole story on enforcement when it comes to Massey Energy. Tony Oppegard is a lawyer in Lexington, Kentucky. He specializes in representing miners and their families.
BLOCK: In this instance, I don't think that MSHA did enough to protect the miners in that Massey mine. They did not use all the enforcement tools at their disposal.
OVERBY: Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
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