The tragic deaths
of 25 coal miners in
West Virginia have reverberated across the country. In the wake of the
accident, many are beginning to ask about the dangers of the massive
Appalachian coal mining economy. Are we too
reliant on coal? Why do such dangerous conditions persist while the rest of the U.S. enjoys tough labor safety standards? There
are no easy answers to these questions, which may still echo long after
the disaster has faded from the front pages.
Virginia Politics Could Change Forever Politico's Ben Smith explains the
"massive political implications in a state whose politics are still
defined, 1920s-style, by the conflict between labor union and Democrats
on one side and a single, deep-pocketed coal baron on the other." That
baron, Don Blankenship, owns Massey Energy, which runs the mine where
this accident took place. "Indeed, it's difficult to think of a figure
like him in any other state in the current century."
This Change National Energy Policy? Newsweek's Daniel Stone asks, "will such a fresh reminder of the dangers of coal
mining influence the nation's energy debate, underscoring the imperative
to move beyond coal?" Before now, "Instead
of safety, the most significant considerations for an energy revolution
are environmental factors. Mercury contamination and global carbon cuts
are what fuels discussions at bipartisan meetings on Capitol Hill."
Could safety concerns, added to environmental concerns, tip the
balance? Stone doesn't think so.
- The Corrupt Politics of Coal
The Washington Post's Dylan Matthews shakes
his head. "Massey, and its leader, Don Blankenship, are almost
cartoonishly villainous in the way they approach everything from the
environment to union rights to media scrutiny." He says Blankenship has
ousted unions, spent millions to unseat judges, and "has more or less
purchased the state's government." Matthews says campaign finance reform
is needed. "Reform that limits what Massey and Blankenship can spend on
West Virginian campaigns would clearly make for a fairer democratic
process, where public opposition to coal can actually matter."
Unions Grew Too Weak Slate's Jenny Rogers explains, "The real obstacle to safety
reform is that miners no longer have a powerful union sticking up for
them." But no longer. "Although mining in the United States is safer now
than it was in past decades, that's the case because organized mine
workers pushed hard for reforms a generation ago—reforms that are still
in effect. Whether those reforms are enough is now in question."
Terrible Health Dangers of Coal Matthew Yglesias rounds up
some statistics on the health affects of coal. He quotes Bill Sweet, who "estimates imply that
about 10,000 people die each year from exposure to coal power plant
emissions, and about 10,000 from vehicular emissions." And the
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "People who live in counties where lots of coal
is mined are much more likely to suffer from an array of chronic,
life-threatening health problems ... residents reported higher rates of
cardiopulmonary disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,
hypertension, diabetes, and lung and kidney disease."
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