Sunday, September 2, 2007

Tribune's rush to judgment not supported by the facts

Tribune's rush to judgment not supported by the facts

Salt Lake Tribune - United StatesLetter to the EditorBy David James

September 1, 2007

In "Time for change: Crandall Canyon tragedy must bring reforms" (Our View, Aug. 25), The Salt Lake Tribune demands thorough investigations, answers and accountability. We couldn't agree more.
But then the editorial rushes to judgment and attacks the very mine safety professionals who have been key to the 38 percent reduction in the overall injury rate at U.S. coal mines over the past decade.
The rescue operations have been extremely frustrating, difficult and fraught with disappointments.
One of our colleagues was killed and another was injured in the rescue effort.
No one will work harder to find answers and make any needed changes than the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, Richard Stickler, whose father and grandfather were underground coal miners. His 40-year career includes serving as a miner, on a mine rescue team, as a mine superintendent and manager. As head of Pennsylvania's Bureau of Deep Mine Safety, he helped guide the successful rescue at Quecreek in 2002 and reduced the statewide injury rate by 44 percent.

In his 10 months at MSHA, new requirements for emergency response plans, breathable air and mine seals have been implemented and civil penalties were increased. MSHA has also invoked its harshest enforcement tool on eight habitually negligent operators.
MSHA has issued $39 million in penalties to mine operators since the beginning of this year - more than 85 percent higher than the same period in 2006. This includes a $1.5 million penalty to the operator of West Virginia's Aracoma mine, the most severe penalty in MSHA's history.
We understand the temptation to hastily assign blame and seek scapegoats. But The Tribune's doing so without benefit of facts gleaned through intensive investigations - which you advocate - is a disservice to your readers. * DAVID JAMES is assistant secretary of labor in the U.S. Department of Labor's office of public affairs.