PHILADELPHIA - August 22 - The recent tragedy at the Murray Energy Crandall Canyon mine in Huntington, Utah, prompts a renewed call for the vigorous implementation and enforcement of proposed mining safety measures, urges the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization with a long history of supporting coal miners and communities.
"Congress should move swiftly to pass recently introduced legislation that, among other things, immediately requires mining companies to use systems that can track and communicate with miners," says Rick Wilson, director of the American Friends Service Committee West Virginia Economic Justice Project. "The law would also require companies to upgrade to better communications systems as they become available."
That legislation, HR 2768 and 2769 and S. 1655, introduced in June of this year by Representatives George Miller (D-CA), Nick Rahall (D-WV), and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), and Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Patty Murray (D-WA), would improve health and safety in U.S. mines and immediately require companies to use the best available technology to stay in contact with miners.
Last year 47 people died in mining accidents, the deadliest year in the nation's coal mines since 1996. In the wake of tragedies such as the 2006 Sago and Aracoma Alma mine disasters in West Virginia, which killed 14 miners, Congress passed the MINER Act, the first mine safety legislation in a generation. That legislation has not been fully implemented.
Additionally, under the Bush administration, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has rolled back safety and health rules.
"When 12 miners were killed in the Sago mine, one of the most glaring problems was the inability to communicate with the men trapped, who were underground for more than 40 hours," notes Beth Spence, a member of the state-appointed team investigating the Sago and Aracoma Alma disasters, which was headed by former federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) director J. Davitt McAteer.
"That scenario was repeated at the Crandall Canyon mine, where frantic drilling efforts have been unable to locate the miners," Spence adds.
The MINER ACT gave companies until 2009 to develop and install wireless communications systems rather than requiring them to immediately use the best available technology.
"Mine rescue workers bravely and selflessly put their lives on the line and face extremely hazardous situations. Like firefighters, they rush in where angels fear to go. While no existing technology works perfectly in all situations, it can vastly improve the chances of success for rescue operations," notes Spence.
"We support rigorous enforcement of existing laws and steep penalties for those who disobey them," Wilson adds. "Our nation's miners, who risk their lives every day to produce the coal that helps fuel this nation, deserve 21st-century safety standards—the best that can be delivered at this time."
The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has had a presence in West Virginia since 1922, when it provided emergency relief in mining camps where coal operators were trying to stop union organizing. AFSC is currently a leader of the Let Justice Roll Coalition, which supports higher minimum wages and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act to protect workers' rights.
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The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service. Its work is based on the belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.