CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The president of Consol Energy warned coal company officials Thursday that continued deaths in the nation's mines could dangerously erode public support for the industry at a time when it's already fighting for survival.
Consol President Nicholas DeIuliis said mine operators have made great strides over the years in reducing injuries, deaths and illnesses, but that if fatal accidents don't end altogether, the public "is going to question whether coal mining is a safe endeavor."
"We can't be satisfied with just incremental improvements," DeIuliis said during a speech to the West Virginia Coal Association's 40th Annual Mining Symposium. "The only acceptable result for everyone in the industry and everyone in the room should be zero fatalities and zero injuries."
DeIuliis said Pittsburgh-based Consol has made improvements since setting the goal of zero accidents five years ago, but noted two recent deaths in the last four months at the company's mines in West Virginia.
"We've suffered tragic fatalities ourselves within our company," he said. "Those fatalities have tested our spirit. It's not just a statistic. It rips through families, communities, and the entire industry."
On Nov. 30, 2012, 58-year-old Markel J. Koon was killed in the collapse of part of a coal-slurry impoundment at Consol's Robinson Run Mine in Marion County. And on Feb. 12, 51-year-old Glen Clutter was killed when he was hit in the head with a metal bar he was using to help put a loaded supply car back on the underground tracks at the company's Loveridge Mine in Marion County.
Clutter's death was one of six coal-mining deaths that occurred nationwide during a 25-day period between Jan. 26 and Feb. 19. Four of those deaths occurred in West Virginia.
Also speaking to the coal association meeting, U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration chief Joe Main echoed DeIuliis's comments that the goal must be to eliminate mining deaths.
"We all know that one death is one too many," Main said. "And we know that they are preventable and we know what must be done to protect our nation's miners."
Two statewide elected officials who addressed the coal industry meeting also mentioned mine safety.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said, "West Virginia's coal mining industry can thrive only if mining operations are operated as safely as possible."
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said, "We want to make sure that we continually reduce the number of fatalities that occur in the state of West Virginia."Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.