WildEarth Guardians Report Uncovers Dangerous Scale of Safety Infractions at Coal Mines Across the Country, Severely Low Penalties
Denver – An analysis by WildEarth Guardians has found that among the United States’ topproducing coal mines, safety violations are occurring at a rate of one every hour and that forevery 51 million tons of coal produced a miner dies.
“There is no other industry that would allow these kinds of appalling abuses to continuewithout a major internal overhaul,” said Shannon Hughes, Climate Guardian with WildEarthGuardians, “Under Trump, these mining companies are literally getting away with murder.”
According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, in 2017, there was a 100% jump incoal miner fatalities. The top violator was Murray Energy, which is owned by coal magnate BobMurray and operates mines in Utah and Appalachia.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (“MSHA”), under the Department of Labor, isresponsible for regulating mines and conducting safety inspections. While some violations arerelatively minor (missing paperwork, for example), MSHA data revealed that among the hourlyviolations occurring each day, four “significant and substantial” violations (which could result ininjury or illness without immediate intervention) occurred every day across these mines.Meaning, every few hours, a mine operator makes a mistake that could cost miner their lives.
This past year saw an almost two-fold increase in miner fatalities, after a record low fatality ratein 2016. WildEarth Guardians has calculated that, in 2017 alone, for every 51 million tons ofcoal produced, a miner was killed.
The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, requires MSHA inspectors to issue a citationfor each violation they observe. In 2017 coal mines across the country garnered 46,896citations, 22% of which were considered “significant and substantial” violations.
Murray Energy, reaped 3,148 violations in 2017. Unfortunately, despite the billions of dollarsmade from the 774 million tons of coal unearthed in 2017, MSHA only assessed $24 million infines to the top 50 companies for their numerous violations. Coal mines were fined an averageof $19,867 (distributed evenly between the 1,208 mines in operation), which equates to only.02-.04% of the worst offenders’ profits for 2017.
“What we discovered is that coal companies are making billions of dollars and paying penniesfor repeatedly endangering workers’ lives,” says Hughes. “They absurdly consider it just thecost of doing business and fail to make workplaces safer.”
The Trump administration has reduced MSHA’s ability to issue citations in an attempt to streamline regulations, limiting the agency’s ability to fine companies as well.
Like many federal agencies under Trump, MSHA did not have senior leadership for the majority of 2017. MSHA additionally instituted a new “Compliance Assistance Program,” in which federal inspectors were required to leave their credentials before entering a mine, technically barring them from punishing the mine on the spot if they encounter safety violations because they lack physical credentials. Further, MSHA’s budget was reduced, rendering them less effective to regulate such a dangerous industry.
Trump’s 2016 campaign promised that he would return coal miners back to work by removing regulations and making it easier to develop fossil fuels. He even went so far as to ask the Labor Department to revisit a 3-year-old rule from the Obama Administration meant to reduce exposure to coal dust that causes black lung disease.
“These unfettered violations show that when Trump says he wants to safeguard coal miners, he actually just wants to safeguard coal companies’ profits,” states Hughes.
In contrast, a recent report found less risk in injury and death in renewable energy production than in fossil fuel jobs. This evidence comes even as the renewable energy industry grows in leaps and bounds.
“What we discovered is further confirmation that renewable energy is the future for American consumers and American workers,” states Hughes, “wind and solar jobs answer the call for well-paid, technical occupations in which workers’ families can be confident in their return home at the end of the day.”