Today's episode of Democracy Now went over a report which concluded that Massey Energy was culpable and responsible for the Big Branch mine explosion that killed almost 30 of its workers. Anybody who's paid half a bit of attention to this story will know that Massey and other coal mining companies have been screwing the political system with money to buy cooperation as they violate environmental protection laws, worker safety laws, and even common morality.
They have destroyed over 500 mountains in West Virginia (according to todays report) for the purpose of getting the coal underneath the mountains.
The other half of the show was an interview with the film-maker who produced a documentary, Last Mountain, talking about the extent of mountain destruction. That's where the "500 destroyed mountain" number comes from.
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J. DAVITT McATEER: The findings were threefold, mainly that the company operated in a way that disregarded the basic safety precautions needed to keep the mine safe, that the ventilation system was not maintained properly. The rock dust, that is used to keep an explosion from spreading, was not maintained and was not updated daily. And third is that the methane gas was not removed from the mine in an effective way, leading to, in fact, a perfect storm. When an ignition began on the long wall of the mine, it spread throughout the mine, kicked up the coal dust, and the coal dust then became a very violent explosion that killed the 29 miners.
J. DAVITT McATEER: We looked very carefully at what Massey has suggested, that it was this inundation. There had been three previous inundations, in '97, in 2003 and 2004. But we also looked at what would have happened had an inundation occurred. Their suggestion is a million cubic feet of natural gas flooded into the mine unexpectedly. If that had happened, the footprint of the explosion, what the explosion looked like afterwards, would have been much different than what the explosion looks like now. For example, the explosion's force would have been extremely powerful at the source of the infusion, where [inaudible]
J. DAVITT McATEER: Coal dust is created as you mine coal. It’s simply the dust that’s—as you grind the coal and put it onto a conveyor belt, it’s the coal—it’s the coal that’s broken into fine particles, and it falls onto the ground. How it can be prevented from exploding is the addition of rock dust, which is essentially ground-up limestone that’s laid with the coal dust, and that limestone lowers the explosion rate that the coal dust can have, so that you can make it not explosive. The failure to have a rock-dusting system that was in operation at the time, the failure to keep rock dusting in place, was a basic, fundamental safety failure that every industry—every representative of the industry knows. Have to do that to keep an explosion from spreading throughout the mine.
BILL HANEY: Well, The Last Mountain is a film about the fight for the last great mountain in Central Appalachia between the mining company Massey, that wants to blow it up and strip the coal inside, and the locals, who want to stop them and build a wind farm on top instead. And it’s a story about citizen democracy. It’s about the extraordinary group of, you know, waitresses and former Marines and former coal miners, who have come together and enlisted the help of folks like Bobby Kennedy, Jr., to try to fight for their rights. And it’s a story about the future of energy, because the ugly paw of the coal industry lies heavy upon our political system and on our environment. So that’s why we called it The Last Mountain, because they’ve already knocked down, with explosives the size of a Hiroshima bomb being dropped on Appalachia every week—they’ve already taken 500 of these mountains down to rubble and dumped the residuals into the rivers, contaminating 2,000 miles of federal river, and there’s not much left.
BILL HANEY: Well, I think that Massey controls all the mountains in the Coal River Valley, including Coal River Mountain that’s at the center of our story. It’s the largest practitioner of this most egregious form of mining, mountaintop removal. And it’s been operated in a way that seems to be wildly beyond the bounds of federal constraint and state constraint for quite some time. So their history of safety violations and environmental violations is so long as to be dizzying. And they, you know, for many, many years appear to have decided that it was less expensive to pay the fines and sort out something with the political system than it was to actually comply with the environmental rules or the Clean Water Act or safety standards....
ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR.: I’ve been involved in the industry, in the coal industry in West Virginia, on and off for 27 years. I was invited down about three or four years ago by the local group at Coal Mountain to help them in their battle to save this last mountain, as Bill says.
Massey Coal is the third largest coal company in the country, but it is by far the biggest practitioner of mountaintop removal mining. Over the past decade, they have leveled an area of the Appalachians the size of Delaware, 1.4 million acres. They’ve cut down 500 of the biggest mountains in the state. And they’ve buried, as Bill said, thousands of miles of rivers and streams.
They have to break the law to do this. They cannot survive in the marketplace without violating the law. They violate labor laws. They violate health and safety laws. And by their own records, they’ve had some 67,000 violations of just one of the environmental statutes....