That sentiment courses through a scathing New York Times editorial on the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 coal miners in West Virginia. Alpha Natural Resources will foot the $209 million dollar bill which contains civil and criminal penalties for the role of its subsidiary, Massey Energy.
Despite the enormous figure, the families do not feel justice has been served. The Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration blasted the Upper Big Branch for “a series of basic safety violations at UBB that were entirely preventable.”
The investigation found “multiple examples of systematic, intentional, and aggressive efforts by PCC/Massey to avoid compliance with safety and health standards, and to thwart detection of that non-compliance by federal and state regulators.”
Essentially, the men who died were condemned to do so by the negligence and greed of a large corporation. But Federal though prosecutors were able wring this settlement that will pay $46.5 million to the victims’ families, bringing criminal charges against specific executives who knowingly put people in harms way may prove impossible.
This is more than just a failure of one company to play by the rules, but of system that allows mining companies to set their own rules—violate them, then pay only monetary consequences.
Overall, mining safety laws are weak. Safety violations, excepting instances in which records are falsified, are only misdemeanors. There’s little doubt that the coal mining industry’s powerful lobbying efforts have kept such regulations intact.
Even though this was the largest coal disaster in 40 years, no legislation has been passed that would close the loopholes that encourage coal mines to push the limits of safety. The bulk of the settlement agreement money will go to improving infrastructure in the mine, fines for safety violations and a miner safety foundation.
It seems like industry leaders from finance to coal are getting off easy for damages to individuals by asking their corporations to foot the bill. But in this case, if prosecutors got what they could, what’s most disturbing is the government’s inability to pass new legislation that would close up these loopholes. It’s been 20 months, and nothing has changed.
In public discussion, “regulation” has become a bogeyman, the enemy of progress. And yet corporate regulation has been on a steady decline for a half century.
Pizza is a vegetable. It wasn’t pizza grease that clogged the movement to make school lunches healthier, but the food production lobby.
The government was designed with a system of checks and balances in mind. But so far, it seems that corporations willing to spend millions on lobbying are exempt from the check the government must place on corporate exploitation of power.