The worst mine disaster in 40 years occurred on April 5, 2010, when 29 miners lost their lives at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine. Shortly after the tragedy, West Virginia’s governor appointed an independent investigation panel which included AFSC staffer Beth Spence. She served in a similar capacity in 2006 following the Sago mine collapse and brought her experience and journalistic skills to the new report issued on May 19, 2011.
After more than a year of exhaustive investigations, the panel concluded that ultimately, the responsibility for the tragedy lies with Massey Energy’s management. “The company broke faith with its workers by frequently and knowingly violating the law and blatantly disregarding known safety practices while creating a public perception that its operations exceeded industry safety standards,” the report stated.
AFSC’s focus was on the men and women who work in the mines every day to provide the country with energy. Beth said, “It was difficult to watch people grieve, to sit across the table from the parents or children of the men who lost their lives. And to hear stories from many people about the conditions in that mine and to know that the explosion at Upper Big Branch could have been avoided.”
The report states in part: “A company that was a towering presence in the Appalachian coalfields operated its mines in a profoundly reckless manner….The April 5, 2010, explosion was not something that happened out of the blue….It was…a completely predictable result for a company that ignored basic safety standards and put too much faith in its own mythology.”
AFSC and many others in and out of West Virginia hope that this report will help lead to justice for those who played games with the lives of working people, encourage companies to adopt better safety practices, and push state and national leaders to enact more stringent safety regulations.
In Beth’s words, “All you can hope is that the work you’ve done prods the industry and the country to do better for those who mine coal, that it honors the men who were lost, and that it helps protect the lives of miners who are still on the job.”
AFSC's Area Director for the WV EJ Program, Rick Wilson has more on his blog.