The Charleston Gazette
Ken Ward Jr. has been covering the mine industry for most of his 15 years at The Charleston Gazette. Shortly after the Sago mine disaster, he began an extensive investigation on the dangers inside U.S. mines, publishing over 100 articles. His series, "Beyond Sago," was awarded an Investigative Reporters and Editors medal, the highest honor the IRE awards for investigative reporting.
IN THE NEWS
"House Labor Committee Approves Legislation to Make Work Safer for Miners" Committee on Education and Labor, 10/31/07
In March 2007, the United Mine Workers of America, along with a group of miners and their families (including Sago mine victim George Junior Hamner's widow, Deborah, who is featured in Exposé) expressed concerns regarding the MINER Act of 2006, claiming that MSHA has been acting too slowly to implement the improvements proposed in the Act. In June 2007, Congress introduced new federal mine legislation -- the Supplemental Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (S-MINER) Act of 2007 and the Miner Health Enhancement Act -- to speed implementation of particular provisions in the MINER Act of 2006. The S-MINER measure made it through the House Committee on Education and Labor on October 31, 2007. This legislation has also been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA).
REGULATION & THE COAL MINING INDUSTRY
Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)
Part of the Department of Labor, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is responsible for developing safety and health rules applying to U.S. mines, and for overseeing mine owners and mine operators' compliance with mandatory safety and health standards. MHSA gets its regulatory authority from the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act) and Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 (MINER Act). Reporter Ken Ward's investigation pointed out how MSHA's regulatory powers have been weakened over the last six years with drastic cuts in the mine safety enforcement budget, the firing of hundreds of federal inspectors, and the neglect of dozens of proposals to toughen mine safety laws.
Sago Mine Reports
As part of its goal to improve safety and health conditions in U.S. mines, MSHA maintains full inspection records of mines around the country. According to MSHA's charts, just a month before the deadly accident at the Sago mine, inspectors found violations, among others, in the fire extinguisher system and in a "roof control plan" inside the mine. MSHA's website also offers an updated report on fatal accidents in coal as well as non-coal mines in the United States.
GAO Reports on Mine Safety
In January 2006, in response to the Sago mine disaster, the Government Accountability Office testified before the Senate,on its 2003 report and recommendations that detailed ways MSHA could strengthen its existing programs for ensuring the health and safety of miners.. The GAO's report underlined that, despite having "extensive procedures and qualified staff," MSHA failed to follow through after safety violations were exposed in mines. At that time, GAO's analysis concluded that "MSHA could improve its oversight, guidance, and human-capital-planning efforts." In May 2007, in a report and in additional testimony to a House subcommittee, the GAO reiterated the need for stronger oversight of miners by MSHA. Although MSHA had instituted new training requirements, such as conducting mine emergency drills and installing directional lifelines for miners, GAO still found that about half of the mines were failing to provide mine operators with the information and tools necessary to facilitate emergency training. The reports suggested that MSHA strengthen its monitoring of training and toughen penalties for mine operators who violate or ignore safety requirements.
National Mining Association
The National Mining Association is a trade organization that represents the interests of the American mining industry in Washington. According to its website, "NMA's mission is to create and maintain a broad base of political support for the mining industry and to help the nation realize the economic and national security benefits of America's domestic mining capability."
United Mine Workers of America
Founded almost 120 years ago, UMWA is a labor union representing over 42% of all employed mine workers in the United States. A tough critic of MSHA, UMWA argues that the agency is failing to adequately enforce safety requirements and regulations in U.S. mines, exposing miners to risks on the job.
Bureau of Land Management
Part of the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management administers the almost 260,000 acres of public land in the United States; BLM is also responsible for overseeing all mineral operations on America's public soil. In 2004, the Bureau of Land Management noted deteriorating conditions in Utah's Crandall Canyon mine, stating that mining operations in that area were risky. MSHA, though, was not notified about the dangers. In August 2006, a portion of the mine collapsed; six miners were trapped and three rescue workers were killed in a failed attempt to rescue them.
International Coal Group, Inc. (ICG)
Headquartered in West Virginia, International Coal Group, Inc. is a mining company that produces coal from mines in northern and central Appalachia and in Illinois. ICG is the owner of the Sago mine, where 12 miners lost their lives after an explosion on January 2, 2006. Following the tragedy, ICG established a $2 million fund for the families of the perished miners; earlier this year, it officially stopped taking coal from the Sago mine.
United States Mine Rescue Association
An extensive resource portal, created by and dedicated to miners and mine rescue workers, advocating improved mine rescue training. The site includes a comprehensive list of articles, publications and news related to the mining industry around the world. Also worth checking: an updated archive of major mining accidents worldwide and dozens of links to mining companies, safety training resources, and national and international organizations dealing with mining issues.