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25 Miners Dead in WV Coal Mine Explosion, Massey Energy Mine Cited for Hundreds of Safety Violations

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In West Virginia, twenty-five coal miners have died after a huge explosion at a Massey Energy mine in Raleigh County. It was the worst mining disaster in the United States in more than a quarter-century. The Massey-owned mine was cited for 458 safety violations last year, and federal inspectors fined Massey more than $382,000 for repeated serious violations involving its ventilation plan and equipment. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to West Virginia, where twenty-five coal miners, at least, have died, four remain missing, after a huge explosion at a Massey Energy coal mine. It was the worst mining disaster in the United States for more than a quarter of a century.

The Charleston Gazette reports mine safety experts said initial reports are that the explosion involved methane that built up inside a sealed area of the mine or that leaked through mine seals. Workers are currently drilling holes through over a thousand feet of earth and rock to filter out dangerous gases. That means rescue efforts could be delayed until tonight to ensure rescue workers aren’t exposed to dangerous gases.

The Upper Big Branch Mine is said to have a history of safety violations for not properly ventilating explosive methane gas. According to some reports, the mine was cited for 458 safety violations last year alone.

For more, we do go to West Virginia now, where we’re joined by Maria Gunnoe. She’s an organizer with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and a resident of Boone County, West Virginia, just over two miles from the site of Monday’s mining disaster. Last year she was awarded a Goldman Environmental Prize for activism against mountaintop removal mining.

Maria, tell us what you know at this point about this mine.

MARIA GUNNOE: Yes, thank you for having me on.

And what I know about this mine is it’s owned by an outlaw company known as Massey Energy, and this is — Massey Energy is — they are a company that sees production first, safety second. And this has always been an issue here working. The men that work for Massey Energy are often put in dangerous situations that they should not be put into.

I was standing on a cemetery that was about two nautical miles from this explosion yesterday. And we were working to register and mark cemeteries in the area. This same company is doing mountaintop removal coal mining near the community of Lindytown, and it’s impacting the cemeteries. So we were there registering and marking these cemeteries when we felt this blast. We were standing on the cemetery, and it was sort of like an earthquake, if you will. And I looked at the person that was with me and said, you know, that was a really odd blast. It was an underground blast, and it was very loud, which is uncommon.

And after that, he had a scanner with him, and we heard on the scanner that there had been a terrible accident. They was calling in forty ambulances for standby. And we, of course, rushed back out of there and to our homes to ensure that our families were located. And that’s something we do here. I mean, we very much love our coal miners here, you know, and we’re very proud of this tradition, but we have to ask ourselves how long can we keep doing this. You know, I mean, we literally mined this place to death. These mountains are honeycombed with old abandoned mines and then the new mines. And then they’re doing mountaintop removal mining now. And we’re literally, on a daily basis, we’re putting these men in very dangerous situations to supply our country with electricity.

AMY GOODMAN: Just looking at an LA Times report: “Violations in recent weeks [at the mine] include cracking and collapsing of mine walls [on] Feb. 21; ventilation problems [on] March 17, March 23 and March 30; drill dust on March 25; and inadequate air quality [on] March 23; [this] according to US records.

“In the last year, federal inspectors have fined the company more than $382,000 for repeated serious violations involving its ventilation plan and equipment at the mine,” this according to the Associated Press.

What has been Massey’s response to all of this? And are these violations public to the miners, to activists like you?

MARIA GUNNOE: These violations are public, and they often don’t surface or get talked about until something like this happens. And that’s a part of the problem here. Massey Energy is allowed —- is being allowed to get by with these violations, and in some cases they’re not even made to correct these problems. They’re allowed to send these men back into unsafe situations. And it has created an extremely unsafe environment for these miners. And, you know -—

AMY GOODMAN: Maria Gunnoe, we’re going to have to leave it there, and I want to thank you for being with us. But, of course, we will cover this story tomorrow as it unfolds. At this point, at least twenty-five miners have died at the Massey mine in West Virginia. That does it for our show. Maria Gunnoe, thanks for joining us, West Virginia anti-mountaintop-removal activist.

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