Friday: Fire Delays W.Va. Mine Rescue; Rep. Stupak Will Not Seek Reelection
Brian Lemon, a Massey Energy miner, leans against a truck near the Upper Big Branch Mine on Thursday. (Matt Sullivan/Getty Images.)
Frustration is mounting in the search for four workers trapped in a West Virginia coal mine as an underground fire early Friday stalled the rescue effort for the third time since a massive blast Monday left 25 miners dead.
Rescue teams had made it more than five miles deep into the Upper Big Branch mine before they were driven back to the surface. On their way out, the Washington Post reports, they made an ominous discovery: One of several emergency chambers that can be used to escape toxic conditions inside the mine had not been used.
“We had a long night and we had a difficult night,” said West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin.
As rescuers wait to resume the search, reports out Friday show that the mine’s owner, Massey Energy Company, escaped heightened oversight from federal officials after a Dec. 2007 letter by the Mine Safety and Health Administration warned of a “potential pattern of violations” inside the mine.
“Six months later, the safety agency announced that the Upper Big Branch mine, located in Montcoal, W.Va., and 19 others that were warned that December, had all instituted plans to fix their problems, and had received fewer violations. They all escaped the added oversight, which would have allowed the federal government to close down the mines every time they found a significant violation …After the violations went down, they more than doubled the following year.”
So was the December 2007 warning a missed opportunity? Perhaps, but according to a set of talking points being distributed to lawmakers by the Department of Labor, which houses the MHSA, “Every mine explosion is preventable, and it is the responsibility of the mine operator to ensure of the health and safety of the miners at all times — not just when MSHA inspectors are present.”
Writing in the New Republic, E.J. Dionne Jr. says:
“Only after disasters such as this one do we remember that regulations exist for a reason, that their enforcement can, literally, be a matter of life and death. We will eventually learn what went wrong at Upper Big Branch and whether the safety violations were part of the problem. But then what will we do?”
Michigan Rep. Stupak to Retire
Rep. Bart Stupak, the anti-abortion Michigan Democrat who played a central role in the passage of health care reform, will not seek reelection this November.
“Friends said Stupak was not leaving because of the health fight but because of the exertion that would be required to hold his sprawling Upper Peninsula District,” reports Politico.
Iran to Unveil New Centrifuges
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is set to announce Friday the successful development of a third generation of centrifuges six times* as powerful as existing ones and capable of much faster uranium enrichment, reports Reuters.
– *Corrected at 12:59 p.m. to show the centrifuges will be six times more powerful, not 10 times.
U.S. Military Flights Resume in Kyrgyzstan
Normal flight operations have resumed at the U.S. air base in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, following political unrest that caused the nation’s president to flee the capital this week. Manas is a key transit point for U.S. troops, as well as a refueling station for warplanes for operations in Afghanistan.
Netanyahu Will Not Attend Nuclear Summit
A day after signing a new arms control agreement with Russia, President Barack Obama returns to Washington on Friday ahead of a summit he will host next week on nuclear security. The summit will include world leaders from 40 nations. One notable exception, though, will be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, according to the Associated Press, “is concerned that some countries, particularly Egypt and Turkey, would seek to turn the summit into an anti-Israel event.”