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December 06, 2007

House grants authority rights for Crandall Mine disaster hearings

The House Education and Labor Committee will have the power to depose witnesses in its hearings on the Crandall Mine Disaster, thanks to a resolution that passed the House yesterday.

The Education and Labor Committee already had the power to subpoena evidence, but the latest resolution gives the Committee the power to compel witnesses to testify.

“We need to know who knew what, when they knew it, and how they came to know it. We need to know about face-to-face meetings and telephone conversations they had. Emails and memos are important, but they will only tell a part of the story,” said Rep. George Miller (D-CA) in a statement on the Committee's website.

The deadly collapse at the Utah mine raised questions about whether the federal agency responsible for mine safety was doing enough to protect workers. The Crandall mine was under investigation by the Mine Saftey and Health Administration at the time of the collapse that killed 6 miners and 3 rescue workers on Aug. 6, 2007.

At the time of the cave-in, a similar tunnel nearby was being checked because of concerns about the stability of its roof. The MSHA allowed mining to continue during the investigation after the company promised to install thicker support pillars. It's not clear whether those thicker pillars were in place when the roof collapsed.

I hope the Committee uses its subpoena power to find out why the MSHA let work continue in a similiar mine and whether the employer allowed miners to work before the thicker pillars were installed.


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This is as it should be.

Crandall Canyon Mine, coal mine disasters in China so common that they never make the front page no matter how dreadful, a new oil spill today from a tanker punctured off the Korean coast...

Is it time to scale back energy demand? Naah.

With China, its above and beyond the energy issue. Just as they (until five minutes ago, anyway) they have had zero concern about the extreme pollution of their water and air, their industry/government doesn't care that much about deaths in the coal mines. There's a lot more mine fodder where those came from. Think England in the 1800s, only its ten times worse.


I hope that the recent agreement to mandate some progress in mileage of vehicles is a harbinger of better things to come in the US.

But there is so much low-hanging fruit in the area of US energy conservation that we could make a significant dent in energy use without inventing anything new.

In the building where I work, each desk has fluorescent lamps to the side. Most of us turn the switches off when we leave at days end. A lot of us don't. Today, I worked a bit late. Before I left, I took a walk around the floor and turned out 41 lamps that were still on, and that would have remained on, in the 63 hours between the time I took my walk and when most would have been back. That's just on one floor, on one weekend, in one building. How many buildings are there in the US?

Given the stupendous scale of our wanton energy profligacy, it's no surprise that human beings often fall into the machinery that produces the energy. The sheer magnitude is difficult to grasp even when looking directly at it: I was driving through Wyoming a couple years ago and was baffled by the miles and miles of evenly spaced, perfectly straight and regular rows of hills that I was moving through. I scoured what geological knowledge I possessed trying to figure out what process or processes of orogeny, erosion, and/or glacial sculpting might produce such a bizarre landscape, until I spied the source: a strip mining machine that would dwarf a clutch of aircraft carriers.

Underground coal mining now competes with strip mining on the same Brobdingnagian scale, only it's, well, underground, so it's not quite as obvious. That people are chewed up in the process is hardly news, though nevertheless still shocking.

This seems a good place to recommend (particularly to Lindsay, with her interest in labor issues) one of the better books I've read recently: Scott Martelle's "Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre And Class War In The American West". I'd first developed an interest in the subject after pulling off I-25 near Trinidad, CO. last June, and visiting a monument on the site of the massacre (maintained to this day not by our government, but by the United Mine Workers). It turns out that southern Colorado a century ago was a place of almost unbelievable political corruption and corporate callousness- and yes, you probably assumed that already, but wait until you hear the details. Highly recommended to anyone who wonders what government by and for the Plutocracy really means in practice.

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