Hey, everyone in the Rand Paul pile-on, make room for one more. I'm coming in for a landing!
I shouldn't pick on the good doctor, though he makes it too easy. After all, his latest media train wrecks gave me a chance to resurrect a timeline of industrial disasters I started researching after the Deepwater Horizon event, in response to a lot of conservatives (Rand Paul included) defending BP and blaming everyone from unions to environmentalists for the disaster.
My aim was to illustrate what Rand Paul exemplified in his most recent remarks on mine safety: the right-wing defenders of BP, Massey, and just about every other corporate polluter or regulation-dodger don't know much about the history of industrial disasters, the negligence that caused them, or the regulations and reforms they sparked.
Spark. It's an apt word choice, given the subject matter, and how many times in our history a mere spark here and there has led to conflagration and carnage on record-making scales, and grief for working Americans and their families.
Paul sparked quite a fiery controversy with his stand that government has no business protecting mine workers.
The Republican running to replace outgoing Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) in the coal-mining hub of Kentucky said recently that Washington has no business formulating mine safety rules.
"The bottom line is: I'm not an expert, so don't give me the power in Washington to be making rules," Paul said at a recent campaign stop in response to questions about April's deadly mining explosion in West Virginia, according to a profile in Details magazine. "You live here, and you have to work in the mines. You'd try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don't, I'm thinking that no one will apply for those jobs."
"I know that doesn't sound … I want to be compassionate, and I'm sorry for what happened, but I wonder: Was it just an accident?"
Presumably, Paul thinks that protecting miners will distract the government from its number one job of protecting the private property rights of mine owners.
Paul sparked quite another kind of conflagration with his support of mountain top removal mining.
Paul believes mountaintop removal just needs a little rebranding. "I think they should name it something better," he says. "The top ends up flatter, but we're not talking about Mount Everest. We're talking about these little knobby hills that are everywhere out here. And I've seen the reclaimed lands. One of them is 800 acres, with a sports complex on it, elk roaming, covered in grass." Most people, he continues, "would say the land is of enhanced value, because now you can build on it."
"Let's let you decide what to do with your land," he says. "Really, it's a private-property issue." This is a gentler, more academic variation on a line he used the evening before, during his speech at the Harlan Center: "If you don't live here, it's none of your business." It's the kind of catchphrase that may serve him well in Kentucky, where he has remained steadily ahead of Jack Conway in polls, even after the Rachel Maddow incident. (The small size of Kentucky's African-American population—just seven percent—may have softened his comments' impact back home.) Barring, or maybe not barring, any further philosophical tangents, Rand Paul seems poised to enter the United States Senate, where he'll bring the ideological zeal inherent in that mantra—"If you don't live here, it's none of your business"—to 99-to-1 votes, as well as 51-to-49 ones.
Perhaps if they called it Mountaintop enhancement mining, people wouldn't make such a fuss about it.
Clearly Paul thinks that mine owners should be able to do what they want with their private property. (Paul's politics on property sometimes seem easily summed up by one of the favorite exclamations of our two-year-old: "Mine!") But what about the consequences for those living downstream and their property?
In the meantime, in the hollows and along the creeks in the Appalachian coalfields, people continue to bathe their children in clean water trucked in to their churches because their own wells have been contaminated by coal slurry, to take down their pictures and knick knacks so they won't be shattered by blasts, to power-wash the blasting dirt and coal dust from their houses, to stand vigil by flash-flood prone streams when it rains. Those residents who actually work on a mountaintop removal site-who hold one of the very few decent paying jobs in the region-have been riled to near hysteria by coal company propaganda shrieking about how the EPA is trying to shut down every coal mine -- mountaintop, contour, and underground-in Appalachia.
Maybe it's a question of whose property rights have primacy? Probably whoever
has the most property, so.....
I couldn't begin to cover the 700+ mining disasters in U.S. history, In fact, I had to stop cataloging mining and other industrial disasters before I even reached 100. (Though I'm still updating it as I come across some I missed before.) But I'd love to share with Dr. Paul what I managed to dig up (no pun intended) about the days before mining and other industrial regulations.
Paul is one of a brand of what Mike Lux aptly dubbed "19th Century Conservatives" who want to turn back time to an era when the government only bothered itself with protected those the founders "originally intended" to have any say in government, and those people had "more freedom." (Again as "originally intended.")
It is a sign of how radical conservatives in the last couple of years have become that they are raising issues that have seemed settled for so many decades. Republican nominees and elected officials for major offices have, over the last few months, made open arguments for:
-the privatization or outright phasing out of Social Security and Medicare
-the repeal of the 1964 Civil Rights Act
-the secession of states from the union
-the nullification of laws passed by the Congress and signed by the President
-the repeal of the 17th amendment to the Constitution, passed in 1914, allowing people to vote directly for their Senator rather than have them appointed by the state legislature
Now comes the most radically extreme proposal yet: Senate Majority Leader McConnell and other Republicans are now calling for amending or even outright repeal of the 14th amendment to the Constitution.
So, I'd like to take Dr. Paul back in time, to meet some of the people who lived during those days of greater freedom, and have him tell them how much better they have it than the workers do today, before the Occupational Safety & Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration began their meddling insistence that workers have the right to a safe workplace.
But, we'd have a lot of ground to cover, just to get to the more than 15,000 miners killed in more than 700 separate mining disasters. He couldn't talk to the miners themselves about how much better were the times they lived in than ours. But I'm sure their families would be comforted to know that Dr. Paul want to take the country back to those days.
Maybe we'd at least have time to get to the worst mining disasters.Maybe he could visit the more than 1,000 families, widows and children of the 367 men (and boys) who were killed when methane gas ignited coal dust in the Monongah Mine Disaster of 1907, which
The No. 6 and No. 8 Mines were slope openings about 1¼ miles apart. The mines were ventilated separately but were connected so that each mine could be ventilated from eith opening in case of necessity.
The workings were wired for electricity, and the coal was undercut by electric cutting machines. Black powder was used for blasting; the tamping composed largely of coal dust. No shot firers were employed. Open lights were used by all workmen.
Traces of gas were found in the advance workings, and firebosses made daily examinations before the men entered. The mines were dusty and haulways were dampened by water cars.
On that Friday morning, 367 men were in the mine and work progressed as usual until 10:28 a.m. when the explosion killed nearly all the men, wrecked the ventilation system, smashed motors and cars, and destroyed the No. 8 openings, together with the boilerhouse and fan, but did little damage to the No. 6 slope.
Four men escaped through an outcrop opening and 1 man was rescued.
Dr. Paul could even shake the hand of the sole survivor — Peter Urban, who found a hole to crawl in before the toxic gas that would cause the death of his twin brother, Stanley, in the same mining disaster. Paul could tell the miner how fortunate he was to live in a time when he was free to work without the protection of unions and government regulations. I'm sure
Never mind that mine disasters declined dramatically, thanks in large part to the kind of oversight and regulation Paul denounces.
The term "mine disaster" historically has been applied to mine accidents claiming five or more lives. Mine disasters, in this sense, once were appallingly common. For instance, the single year of 1907 saw 18 coal mine disasters, plus two more disasters in the metal and nonmetal mining industry. Among the disasters in 1907 was history's worst - the Monongah coal mine explosion, which claimed 362 lives and impelled Congress to create the Bureau of Mines.
Mine accidents have declined dramatically in number and severity through decades of research, technology, and preventive programs. Today, mine accidents resulting in five or more deaths are no longer common. However, preventing recurrence of disasters like those of the past remains a top priority requiring constant vigilance by management, labor, and government.
And apparently, it's a damn shame. Sure, mining disasters have declined since the de-regulated days to which Paul wishes to return, but in protecting the lives of miners.
Can Paul possibly think that the folks lucky enough to live downstream from mountaintop removal operations shouldn't tell mine owners what to do with their property — or that the government should stand up for them, when mining operations have disastrous consequences for them and their property — yet at the same time believe that mine owners are going to let miners tell them what to do with their property, where safety regulations are concerned? That seems to be the gist of his comments in Details.
"You live here, and you have to work in the mines. You'd try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don't, I'm thinking that no one will apply for those jobs."
As Kos points out, it's not like people risk injury, death, or black lung disease because mining is a glamorous gig, or because it pays better than anything else. It's a matter of economic necessity, and where mines are the biggest employers in town, mine owners can easily have workers over a barrel. Either work in their mines on their terms or don't. And good luck finding work somewhere else in town. Or the next town over. Or the one after that. If you don't have the resources to pick up and move your family elsewhere — out of mining country, specifically — you do what they say, if you want to get a paycheck, feed your family, and keep a roof over your head.
Of course, mine owners have an incentive to look out for the safety of their employees? Right? It's more likely that, in an economy where high unemployment is becoming the new normal, that someone like Don Blankenship wouldn't say to a miner concerned about safety, "If you don't like it here, you can leave. I can find ten other men to work for less than what you make now, before you even hit the gate."
The safety record of Massey Energy certainly bears that out. Federal records show that in the last seven years miners at the Upper Big Branch Mine — site of the April 5th explosion that killed 29 of the 31 miners on the site — lost more work time due to work-site accidents than other miners anywhere in the country. According to the MSHA, Massey had 500 safety violations issued against them last year, 200 of which were labeled "significant," and 50 of which were called "unwarrantable failure" to comply with safety requirements. Many, 61, were orders to close parts or all of Upper Big Branch and pull miners out. Twelve concerned ventilation problems that led to the buildup of methane gas. So much, in fact, that methane gas and carbon dioxide kept rescuers from entering the mine for a time, and kept investigators out until it was safe for them to enter. To top it all off, Massey Energy denied miners time off to attend the funerals of the 29 who died in Upper Big Branch.
Why would miners expect a company consistently that puts profits over principle to look out for their safety?
If he could turn back time, if I could take Rand Paul back in time, I'd have him ask the miners, widows and children if they would like to have the protections miners and other workers are supposed to have today? What would they tell him? Would he listen?
But I don't need to take him back in time.Today's coal miners are speaking.
Kentucky coal miners are criticizing Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul for suggesting that Congress shouldn't be making mine safety rules.
United Mine Workers members told reporters Tuesday that miners depend on federal regulations to prevent injuries and deaths.
Miner Bernie Alvey says mining catastrophes "always bring on new laws that keep the rest of us safe later on."
It's doubtful Rand Paul will listen. But the miners hear him loud and clear.