CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The November election is long over with, so it is time for elected officials to stop playing politics and to get serious about solving the problems of the country. Gov. Tomblin soon begins his first full term as governor, so he has a better chance to take on issues he neglected in his first term as governor.
There is wide agreement that the mistakes that led to the disasters at Upper Big Branch and Sago need to be corrected. However, all the published proposals do not deal with the most fundamental problems at the regulatory agencies.
From the several published reports on UBB, there is abundant evidence that inspectors didn't do their jobs prior to the explosion.
From Davitt McAteer's report on Sago it is clear that a mine accident became a disaster only because of inexplicable delays in the mine rescue attempt. A number of participants in that mine rescue attempt are still haunted by those delays, especially those who worked in the mine prior to the explosion. One participant stated: "Many times I've walked (the two miles) out of that mine in 90 minutes (even) when fully loaded with equipment." Another participant stated: "My rescue team was suited up and ready to go in by noon on the first day" and yet they weren't allowed to go in with their "four and a half hour" oxygen units and get the miners out. A rescue attempt that could have succeeded in three to four hours dragged on for a total of 42 hours.
While all the coal mining nations have some mine accidents and mine disasters, some never have the kind of problems that occurred at UBB and Sago. Why? There are differences in how those nations recruit, train, and organize their inspectors.
In Germany no one can become an inspector until they have at least 10 years of mining experience. In the United States someone can read a book, maybe get a degree, and become a mine inspector or other mine safety official without any prior mine experience. In the past there may have been an excuse for this, because most coal miners prefer to be coal miners. However in 2012, more than 900 coal miners have been laid off and are out of work. So I think Gov. Tomblin couldn't ask for a better time to introduce a bill that would require all newly hired inspectors to have at least 10 years of mine experience. So now is an excellent time to ask the governor to take the lead on this long needed change.
Beckerle, of Craigsville, is a farmer and former surface mine reclamation manager.