In West Virginia yesterday, the bodies of the last of the 29 men killed in the explosion at the Upper Big Branch were carried out of the mine.
Now, as the rescue operation ends, let the criminal investigation begin. Because the more we learn about the disastrous safety record of the Upper Big Branch mine and the callous behavior of CEO Don Blankenship, the more we realize this was a tragedy that need never have happened.
The most dangerous of all coal mines to work in, Upper Big Branch was cited by federal inspectors for safety violations 1,342 times since the beginning of 2005 and fined millions of dollars.
Sixty-four times since the beginning of 2009, the mine was evacuated for a build-up of methane gas similar to that which caused the April 5 disaster.
Yet Blankenship refused to improve working conditions and contested nearly every fine. For him, it was cheaper to pay the fines he couldn’t get out of than pay to protect his workers. Clearly, he put profit over miner safety.
When we look at the record of the Upper Big Branch mine and the failure of Don Blankenship to take corrective action, what happened on April 5 was no accident. It was murder.
That’s my parting shot for today.