Friday, August 17, 2007


IN EVERY GENERATION. I grew up in West Virginia and counted the children of coal miners as friends. I know some of these church camp chums have now been toiling in the dark shafts and underground tunnels of Logan County for the balance of their lifetimes. Every generation sends a fresh batch of its hearty youth--motivated by who knows what--deep into the earth to mine the ores that keep us warm, that power our industries, that build our empires.

BEYOND NAMELESS NOBODIES. I've been thinking of my West Virginia friends as I've followed the developing story from Utah, a tragedy made more tragic now by the deaths of three rescuers (likely fellow miners) who were trying to get to six miners--dead or alive, we do not know--trapped by a mine collapse for over a week. I've been imagining each of these fellows as one of those colorful camp kids from Logan. He's not a nameless miner dulled by years of doggedly digging into a mountain to harvest black gold, aware of some risk but numbed by the monotony. He's an athlete, he's a musician, he's a God-seeker. He's a fun-lover, he's a prankster, he's an outspoken instigator. He's every one of us...but trapped in more ways than we can imagine.

NECESSARY AND UNNECESSARY RISKS. Unless you and I are willing to go into mines ourselves, we owe every miner respect and the best possible guarantee that reasonable safety measures are federally mandated and that every mining company manager is practicing a safety first protocol. Though there's never been a safer time in which to practice mining, miners are always at risk. The degree of reasonable risk depends on the type of mining they're doing. But the difference between reasonable risk and unnecessary risk has to do with the tone, expectations, and practices of the mining company, local managers, and the team of miners. So far, we don't know much about any of this at the Utah site.

TOUGH TALK, DANGEROUS RHETORIC. So far, I don't hear the press asking poignant questions of the Utah coal mining company that employed the trapped miners. Perhaps the press is waiting until the miners' fate is clearly known. But as of now the mining company owner and his associates don't seem to be telling a very straight or clear story regarding the cause of the collapse, the type of mining being practiced, and the exact manner in which "retreat mining" was being conducted. Could his tough talk and "get 'em out at all costs" rhetoric have influenced the rescuers to take undue risks, too?

DANCING FOR THE CAMERAS? I see this guy on TV repeatedly, I hear his words, I observe his tone of response to questions, I see his demonstrations of rescue procedures, and I wonder if I am seeing a coal cowboy who needs to be asked very pointed questions and held to very precise answers. I wonder how loose a ship he's run. As often as his mines have been cited for violations, I wonder why regulations have been winked at, put off, or ignored. The fact that he has been unable to satisfy the questions and concerns of the miners' families is a critical issue. Are his words and antics a great act intended to draw attention away from the most obvious questions and issues at stake? I wonder.

FOR WHOSE SAKE? I wonder for the sake of my old pals back in Logan, West Virginia. I wonder for the sake of the families of the trapped miners and fallen and wounded rescuers in Utah. I wonder for the sake of my own integrity and complicity as I turn on a coal-powered electric light tonight. I won't have the privilege of asking the mine operator my questions. I'm counting on a diligent press and honest government agency leaders to help us get answers and, beyond that, uphold right practices.


  1. A few updates:

    Two of the rescuers who were killed were, in fact, fellow miners.

    This mine is not a union mine. Not unexpectedly, the United Mineworkers union has criticized the operation of this mine as unsafe for miners and is now calling for a full investigation.

  2. JB@WEMO10:31 PM

    You may be interested in this article profiling the Crandall Canyon mine owner and its history of safety violations.

  3. The Common Sense article is revealing, to say the least. It more than confirms my surmises regarding Murray.

    One can only hope a full investigation, in spite of a "bought" MSHA leadership, will get at the truth, place accountability where it belongs, and bring about changes in policies, practices, and the working "climate" or culture of mining operators.


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