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Lapses over mine safety intolerable

Federal hypocrisy is nothing new. But when it jeopardizes the lives of people whose jobs have been targeted by that same government, it is particularly difficult to swallow.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Inspector General, negligence on the part of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration did just that during the same years the Environmental Protection Agency was waging its war on coal and reasonably priced electricity.

When mine disasters killed 19 workers at Sago and Aracoma in West Virginia, and the Darby Mine in Kentucky, in 2006, Congress passed the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act. Officials vowed a fresh look at mine safety regulations in 2010, after another 29 miners were killed, this time at Upper Big Branch.

Since Upper Big Branch, there have been at least 37 fatal mine accidents in West Virginia. During that period, according to the Inspector General’s office, MSHA’s insufficient oversight and failure to note inaccuracies and omissions in required emergency response plans “placed miners at unnecessarily increased risk …”

MSHA compounded their neglect by arguing the investigators should not have said 40 of the 177 wrong phone numbers found on emergency plans were truly incorrect because dialing them produced this message: “At no additional charge, AT&T can help you find a similar business in the same area, since the number you have called is not in service. Please stay on the line for alternate businesses, or for an additional charge, call directory assistance.”

Needless to say, the Inspector General’s office didn’t buy MSHA’s excuse.

Investigators found “multiple instances” of other problems with MSHA’s inspections and oversight.

As lawmakers and the president try to clean house in Washington, D.C., they should bear the report critical of MSHA in mind.

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