As my wife and I sat down to watch the NCAA Championship on Monday evening, the news scrolled across the top of our TV screen. "Seven miners killed and 25 trapped in the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine located in Whitesville, WV." It's a sinking feeling that I've felt in the past, but it's never something I've gotten used to.
We immediately tuned in to CNN and there were live broadcasts from the scene. There were emergency vehicles all over the place, reporters scrambling and family members trying to hold themselves together. It was a terrible scene that's still playing itself out at this very moment. At this point, 25 miners have passed and four are still missing. The missing four are not expected to be alive, but rescue efforts are still being made despite numerous setbacks caused my high concentrations of methane gas in the mine.
Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy (the company that owns the Upper Big Branch Mine), has provided an extremely unsafe working environment for the people of this mine. In 2009 the Upper Big Branch Mine had over 500 safety violations. That's more than one a day! How could this mine still be operating with that many problems, you ask. When a mine violates a regulation, they're slapped with a fine instead of being made to fix the problem. IT'S CHEAPER TO CONTINUALLY PAY THE FINE THAN FIX THE PROBLEM.
How is this possible? Can't the government do something about this and shut a mine down? Hahaha... the government. You mean the guys that are afraid of Don Blankenship? You mean the people Don Blankenship helped get elected by contributing to their campaigns? The government is an enabler purchased by Big Coal. Scary, huh?
What's even scarier is the lengths some people will go to defend Massey and Don Blankenship. Some "Friends of Coal" defend the man and his company like a god. They back him when he says disasters like this are an "act of God" and it's just part of coal mining. Their constant ridicule of "tree hugging liberals" on local commercials in West Virginia only back up my point. Local media is another accessory to Big Coal.
Like I said before, I've followed this story closely on CNN and our local network affiliates. Numerous times CNN has stated how many violations this mine has had. The local affiliates... not so much. It's almost like they're afraid to criticize Big Daddy Don Blankenship for his ruthless, money grubbing, coal over human safety ways. Coal controls everything in Appalachia.
So how do you beat Big Coal? I know it's a difficult assignment, but I think it can be done. It's gonna have to start with education. People in rural West Virginia and Appalachia are going to have to open up to knowledge and accept outsiders. You don't have to work in a mine if you get a good education. So many times I hear about what a great work ethic coal miners have. Well, have that same work ethic growing up in school and learn. Instill this value in your children now. Learning will get you away from Big Coal. You'll learn it isn't the only answer.
Like I said, death in a coal mine isn't something that I have gotten used to. It's extremely frustrating and it just doesn't have to happen. Stand up to Big Coal. Show them that these jobs aren't the only way to make a living. Do not accept this tragedy and move on. West Virginians are proud people. Be proud in the face of Big Coal.