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America's Debate > Archive > Policy Debate Archive > [A] Domestic Policy
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Cube Jockey
By now everyone is aware of the Sago mine disaster that killed 12 miners and left others seriously wounded. According to Christian Science Monitor:

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Nearly half of the 208 safety citations levied in 2005 against the Sago coal mine where 12 men died this week were “serious and substantial.” Federal inspectors found 20 dangerous roof-falls, 14 power wire insulation problems, and three cases of inadequate ventilation plans, among the 96 major violations.


There is a USA Today story worth reading on this subject.
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Federal inspectors spent 744 hours at the Sago Mine last year, compared with 405 hours in 2004, MSHA's McKinney said. "An 84% increase in on-site hours shows that our folks were concerned and actually walked the walk," McKinney said. After sections were closed, the mine operators had to correct problems before they could reopen those areas of the mine, he said.

In all, the Sago Mine received 276 violations in 2004 and 2005, including 120 that were considered "significant and substantial." During that time, the government sought $33,600 in fines. Of that, the companies paid $23,986.

Compared with three other similar-sized mines in West Virginia, the Sago Mine had far more violations during that period, a USA TODAY analysis found. The Argus Energy Deep Mine No. 8 in Wayne County, for instance, had 156 violations, 120 fewer than Sago. The three other mines also had fewer accidents, according to MHSA data. Sago had 40 accidents in 2005. The most at any of the other mines was 12, records show.

The United Mine Workers union contends that the federal government has lessened its enforcement of mining safety regulations in recent years. And despite problems at the mine, the highest proposed fine issued by the government last year was $440 for one of the ventilation violations. Many of the violations prompted $60 fines.


If you buy into the spin coming from the administration all you hear about is how inspections at the mine were increased, they don't tell you that they didn't do anything about them.

According to Hoovers.com they made 21.5 million in profit and did 136.1 Million in Revenue in 2004. In other words the fines they paid represented just .11% of their profit in 2004 and .0018% of their revenue - hardly a deterent of any kind against this kind of activity.

Questions for debate:
1. Is the federal government doing enough to enforce the relevant laws on mine safety?

2. Should new laws with much higher penalties be enacted?

3. Should this mine have been shut down in the face of these violations?
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NiteGuy
QUOTE(Cube Jockey)
If you buy into the spin coming from the administration all you hear about is how inspections at the mine were increased, they don't tell you that they didn't do anything about them.

Well, they did do something. I saw somewhere that a few of the violations also caused the mine to be shut down for a few days until the violation in question was corrected. Granted, the fines levied seem rather ridiculous, but that's easily solvable, by revisiting the original legislation, and enacting tougher fines and penalties. Assuming we can get congress off their duffs, and ignore the lobbyists long enough to do something, that is.

QUOTE(Cube Jockey)
According to Hoovers.com they made 21.5 million in profit and did 136.1 Million in Revenue in 2004. In other words the fines they paid represented just .11% of their profit in 2004 and .0018% of their revenue - hardly a deterent of any kind against this kind of activity.

Well, let's be fair now, Cube. I've been home a lot over the past week, and I heard either on CNN or FOX (sorry, I really don't recall which), that ICG Inc., purchased this particular mine only six weeks ago or so. Most of the fines were levied against the former owners, and ICG was working to correct the backlog of violations listed, but this kind of thing takes some time.

Questions for debate:

1. Is the federal government doing enough to enforce the relevant laws on mine safety?

Honest answer - I don't know, because I'm not aware of what the current laws are, with regards to when fines are levied, or when closure is required. I also don't know if the fines come as a set amount, and are currently simply outdated, or if there is a monetary range that can be applied to fines, and the inspectors are just using the lower end of the scale.

2. Should new laws with much higher penalties be enacted?

If the laws and penalties are outdated, then yes, I believe it's time to update the laws and penalties. Companies are making a lot more these days, and the fines should reflect a punishment that is line with that fact. Fines and other penalties are meant to punish a company enough, so that the condition that brought on the fine is corrected quickly. We saw that this can work, quickly, with the fines levied recently against the NYC transportation workers who went on strike. It was simply untennable for them to maintain a strike in the face of the fines they were accruing.

3. Should this mine have been shut down in the face of these violations?

Again, I'm afraid I don't know enough about all of the kinds of violations that were involved, what had already been corrected by the new company, and what was left to do. As I understand it, a majority of the fines were for things like not having paperwork up to date, and things of this nature. I'm not sure that that warrants plant closure. But, for physical problems inside the mine itself, anything that could affect the safety or lives of the miners should be more carefully looked at by the inspectors, and that portion of the mine operation suspended or shut down, until the violation can be corrected.
Ted
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1. Is the federal government doing enough to enforce the relevant laws on mine safety?

No. This IMO is a primary function for Government and they generally do a poor job. This has been going on for decades and includes the FAA and other government “watchdogs”. What we must remember is that the Congress is often the root of the problem. Thoes folks who are in the pocket of an industry work to water down the power of the regulators and limit the fines. THEY are at fault here as much as the agency.

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2. Should new laws with much higher penalties be enacted?

Yes. Good luck getting that done.

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3. Should this mine have been shut down in the face of these violations?

YES
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