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08.15 RIDE FOR THE OVERRIDE

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Health Care & Environment

08.25 EpiPen Uproar Highlights Company’s Family Ties to Congress [punish price-gougers by canceling patent rights, allow generic production]

08.25 Global warming is melting the Greenland Ice Sheet, fast

08.25 High birth rates and poverty undermine a generation of African children – report

08.25 Nigeria cannot overcome its gathering humanitarian crisis alone

08.25 Delhi schools offer safe space for children to speak up about sexual abuse

08.25 Liberian nurses learn to spot danger signs in babies as healthcare gets shot in arm

08.25 Climate change is thawing deadly diseases. Maybe now we'll address it?

08.24 HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED AFTER PORTUGAL DECRIMINALIZED ALL DRUGS, FROM POT TO COCAINE

08.24 Air pollution threat hidden as research 'presumes people are at home': study

08.24 Politics is killing mothers in Texas

08.24 Zika damage to brain goes well beyond microcephaly, research shows

08.23 Can New York City Waterproof Its Subway?

08.23 Report Shows Whopping $8.8 Trillion Climate Tab Being Left for Next Generation

08.22 Historical documents reveal Arctic sea ice is disappearing at record speed

08.22 Iraqi children pay high health cost of war-induced air pollution, study finds

08.21 The Link Between Health Spending and Life Expectancy: The US is an Outlier [the U.S. is the only 'advanced country' with for-profit healthcare without price controls...]

08.21 'Paradise Lost': How To Help Our Oceans Before It's Too Late

08.21 Dieselgate in Europe: How Officials Ignored Years of Emissions Evidence

08.21 Louisiana floods: state faces soaring recovery costs and disease concerns [related: Louisiana Loses Its Boot]

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US Politics, Policy & 'Culture'

08.25 Could urban farming provide a much-needed oasis in the Tulsa food desert?

08.25 A sense that white identity is under attack’: making sense of the alt-right

08.24 Ties to Clinton Foundation are a knotty problem for Hillary’s campaign [more bad judgement]

08.24 BREAKING: ARMED WHITE SUPREMACISTS STORM NAACP OFFICE IN HOUSTON

08.23 As She Rakes in the Cash, Clinton Fundraisers Still Shrouded in Secrecy

08.23 The Clintons’ ethics test: Government watchdogs weigh in on the Clinton Foundation’s latest maneuvers

08.23 One Answer to School Attendance: Washing Machines

08.23 Twenty Years Since Welfare 'Reform'

08.23 Clinton’s Transition Team: A Corporate Presidency Foretold [the 'assumed' proviso should be said and promised: "...if it helps the public...]

Justice Matters

08.22 Mapping 'Pre-Crime' in Rio

High Crimes?

08.23 UK in denial over Saudi arms sales being used in Yemen, claims Oxfam [US too...]

Economics, Crony Capitalism

08.24 PHARMA CEO GAVE HERSELF AN $18 MILLION RAISE AFTER HIKING EPIPEN PRICES

08.22 As Resistance Mounts, TPP Becoming 2016 Election's Third Rail

08.21 The death of neoliberalism and the crisis in western politics

08.21 Trump and Clinton's free trade retreat: a pivotal moment for the world's economic future

International

08.25 Italy in shock after Amatrice earthquake: 'This used to be my home'

08.25 US warns Europe over plan to demand billions in unpaid taxes from Apple

08.24 Acceptable Losses

08.24 Turkish troops enter Syria in major operation against Isis

08.23 Congress Must Take Action to Block Weapon Sales to Saudi Arabia

08.22 Israel planning new Squatter settlement near Bethlehem to ‘cut Palestine’s West Bank in two’

08.22 In Response to Indiscriminate Saudi Bombing, MSF Evacuates Northern Yemen

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  Davitt McAteer's Crusade for Safe Mines

COMMENTARY:

Davitt McAteer’s Crusade for Safe Mines

by James Ridgeway
First published in Mother Jones on Thursday, 8 March 2010

The Miner Act mandated a communications system that tracked the whereabouts of trapped miners. Only 8 percent of U.S. mines have installed such a system in the four years since the law was passed...

In Anderson Cooper’s CNN reports on the horror and grief following the deaths of 25 miners at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, the anchor turned to Davitt McAteer to explain what was going on.  For more than 30 years, McAteer has been there through one coal mine disaster after another, pleading for reform.

The key questions in the Massey tragedy are the same as those that were asked following the deaths of 13 miners in Sago, West Virginia, in 2006. Following that incident, many questioned why the federal government would not mount an aggressive drive to enforce safety regulations in the nation’s mines. Neither the Bush administration nor Congress showed any serious willingness to tackle this problem head on. All that came out of the investigations was passage of the Miner Act, which required mines to set up secure areas where trapped workers could seal themselves off with enough food and water to last four days, in the hope that rescuers could reach them in that time. The law also mandated a communications system that tracked the whereabouts of trapped miners. Only 8 percent of U.S. mines have installed such a system in the four years since the law was passed, McAteer told me on the phone yesterday.

These communications systems are not rocket science. As far back as 1998, government and the mine industry were aware of technology that would allow them to stay in contact with trapped miners, as I wrote in a piece for the Village Voice following the Sago disaster:

On November 25, 1998, a fire occurred at the Cyprus Plateau Mining Corporation’s Willow Creek Mine, near Price, Utah. Here is how the Labor’s Department MSHA website described what happened there: “The shift foreman ordered an evacuation using a unique system which operates like a pager that was worn by some miners. This ‘PED’ system (Personal Emergency Device), allowed for constant contact with the miners, even those working in remote areas. After the accident, a text message was sent to the miners–’mine fire-evacuate’. The 45 miners were safely evacuated in about 45 minutes.

Similar communications systems have been more widely used in mines in Australia and elsewhere. By one estimate, the total cost of providing PEDs for workers in a mine the size of Sago would have been about $100,000.

The Massey disaster was caused by a methane explosion. “The numbers of volume [of the gas] are just huge,” McAteer said. “[Normally] the ventilation system should take care of it. But something failed.” He continued: “There is a record of terrible practices in the mine. Terrible.” So if the government knew of these violations, why wasn’t the mine shut down? McAteer said that the government could have done so—”if they had the balls.”

McAteer has been an often-lonely crusader for mine safety reform. I remember riding with him in a car in the 1960s down the narrow roads of the Appalachian coal country at night, during the efforts to oust the corrupt boss of the United Mine Workers union, Tony Boyle. We were scared to death. We kept watching out the back window for cars tailing us. We feared that we would be run off the narrow twisting roads that cut into the hillsides, with nothing but ravines far below. I remember wishing we had a gun. That coal field struggle ended with the election of Arnold Miller, a reform candidate, but not before the leading crusader, Joseph Yablonski, and his wife and daughter were shot and killed by Boyle operatives in 1969. (Boyle was later convicted for the murders.)

McAteer took me and other reporters all over the West Virginia coal fields, from mine to mine, to black-lung protest groups, to visit working miners and their families. He talked Consolidation Coal, then the industry leader, into letting us tour one of the company’s deep mines. He was the heartbeat of the reform effort—polite, diplomatic, cheerful, and most of all persistent. 

Davitt started his career as one of Nader’s Raiders in Washington in the late 1960s. He fought for change in the coalfields—a struggle that culminated in the landmark 1969 Coal Mine Health and Safety Act. In the 1970s, after Boyle had been ousted from the UMW, he led the union’s health and safety programs. From 1994 through 2000 he was Bill Clinton’s Assistant Secretary of Labor in charge of mine safety. After Sago, West Virginia governor Joe Manchin asked McAteer to conduct an independent investigation, and he later testified before Congress in hearings that led to passage of the Miner Act of 2006.

All this time, McAteer has been searching for meaning in the coal business. He conducted a historical investigation of the most terrible disaster in the nation’s history at the Monongah mine in West Virginia, where on the morning of December 6,1907, 500 men and boys were killed. They left behind hundreds of women and more than 1,000 children. It was this disaster that ultimately led to a better understanding of industrial working conditions and paved the way for the first federal coal mine act. McAteer’s 30 years of work became a book, Monongah. But as the tragic events at Massey have shown, his work is far from over.

This post originally appeared on MotherJones.com.


Born in 1936, James Ridgeway has been reporting on politics for more than 45 years. He is currently Senior Washington Correspondent for Mother Jones, and recently wrote a blog on the 2008 presidential election for the Guardian online. He previously served as Washington Correspondent for the Village Voice; wrote for Ramparts and The New Republic; and founded and edited two independent newsletters, Hard Times and The Elements.

Ridgeway is the author of 16 books, including The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11, It’s All for Sale: The Control of Global Resources, and Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Culture. He co-directed a companion film to Blood in the Face and a second documentary film, Feed, and has co-produced web videos for GuardianFilms.

Additional information and samples of James Ridgeway’s work can be found at JamesRidgeway.net and at his newest web site, Solitary Watch.

This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on April 12, 2010.
 

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