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Mining Accidents Follow America's Demand For Electricity

The other day my commentary on the twin fatal accidents at the nonunion mine in Utah inspired a lively discussion about the dangers of the coal mining industry for workers, especially in America's nonunion mines where safety conditions may be more lax due to the inability of the nonunion miners to voice concerns about workplace safety without fear of losing their job as being tagged as "troublemakers" or "whistleblowers". In some nonunion mines, it is only the inspection by federal regulators that sometimes prevents some accidents. Sometimes these inspections only come about six times in a year.

But it is also America's demand for electricity that also places coal miners at risk. In 2006 there were 72 fatal accidents, and incidents involving injury averaged 21,351 between 1991 and 1996 for example. In addition many miners develop serious health related problems such as "black lung" or other life threatening health issues as a result of their dangerous work.

Despite obvious issues with air pollution, coal power still provides about 55% of the U.S. and Canadian electricity production. But this reliance on coal also results in serious health consequences for the public as well. Even a Canadian city like Ontario estimates that it costs $10 billion a year in added health care costs for air pollution induced health problems that kill an average of 2,000 city residents each year. And this problem is repeated in American community after community that relies on coal use for electricity production despite efforts to limit the toxic smog produced by coal-fired electricity production.

Despite claims by the coal industry of coal being a relatively clean source of electricity production, coal-fired electricity production still involves creation of harmful toxins that destroy air quality and endanger the public health. Nitrogen oxide continues to hang close to the ground level, creating a health endangering ozone layer. Sulfur dioxide creates a yellow haze that hangs over communities with coal-fired electricity production, and mercury, lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and chromium continue to endanger the public health.

Other communities use different means to satisfy the American appetite for electricity to power computers, lights, TVs and other modern goods such as nuclear reactor-generated electricity. However, the serious problem of radioactive waste makes this a less desirable option. Cleaner alternatives such as wind power, solar and hydro exist with zero toxic emissions production. Waste from landfills can also be burned, but does create some emissions. Natural gas use produces 99% less sulfur dioxide emissions as well as no mercury, lead or heavy metals.

Coal is a plentiful resource that can last for centuries as a source of electricity production. But the moral arguments of placing miners lives in danger as well injuring the public through toxic air pollution production must be debated by the U.S. and cleaner and safer alternatives must remain as the goal. The other alternative is more tragic Sago and Utah-type coal mine accidents that only cost more human lives.

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Comments (10)


I wonder how much coal has to be dug to generate electricity for 20 million illegal aliens in the U.S. Maybe the Senate's natural resources committee could have ask that question if the Democrats would have ask that quesiton if Harry Reid would have schedule time for committee hearings on the immigration reform bill.

As long as the Democratic Party supports open borders and unlimited immigration, then the Democratic Party has no credbility discussing issues like the environment, energy, or transportation.

Here is a useful link on coal mining deaths:


Lee Ward:

Useful? That link uses data provided by the National Mining Association.

hmmmm, how does it compare to that the miner's union is saying, Paul?

And what's worse - the 2006 figure used by Frank Warner is apparently pulled out of someone's ass - since it doesn't even match the NMA's own figure of .04 as quoted by them here.

Looks like this guy is pulling a fast one with regard to 2006, where the death rate spikes up but he cites a death-per-200,000 hours ratio that is quote a bit lower.

Notice that his link for 2006 leads off somewhere else - where he found a number he liked better, after quoting NMA data for every year up to 2006.

Why didn't he use the NMA's number for 2006?

And how does this compare to union-provided data?

Lee Ward:

Oh, I see - the 2006 figure was a 3rd quarter estimate.

The actual (as provided by the NMA) turns out to be 0.04, not the 0.26 cited by HughS' pal.

Damn, simple fact-checking always turns up a discrepancy in the favor of liberals... now how does that whole "reality has left-leaning tendancies" saying go... lol.

The result, if you ignore the bogus "estimate" and use the actual NMA figures provided by my link above, is that the death rate shot up dramatically in 2006, Hugh.

Lee Ward:

Meet James Harless:

Two-time Pioneer James "Buck" Harless is a West Virginia coal baron. His industry's support was crucial to Bush's narrow 2000 victory in that state. After Bush appointed Harless' grandson to his 2000 Energy Department transition team, the Bush administration reversed a campaign promise to support reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions and eased rules that discouraged coal miners from shearing off mountain tops and dumping the debris in river valleys. "We were looking for friends, and we found one in George W. Bush," James Harless told the Wall Street Journal.

And here's an interesting article on the connection between GOP/Bush fundraising by the coal industry.


...James W. "Buck" Harless. And Harless, according to the Boston Globe, is...a major Bush fund-raiser --[who] would get hundreds of millions of dollars in loan guarantees for a coal gasification plant. [His grandson] served on President Bush's energy transition team, a precursor to Vice President Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force, which developed the critical blueprint for the energy package on Capitol Hill. In 2000, Harless reportedly raised $275,000 for the Bush campaign and gave another $100,000 to his inaugural fund. He and another West Virginia were invited to a invitation-only briefing on the new president's energy policy. Shortly thereafter, Harless was named a director of Massey Energy.

It looks to me like the GOP is in the god-damned back pocket of the coal industry.

Try this link Lee, after you stop hyper ventilating...


I knew you were waiting for my comment. Settle in:this is going to be a long thread.

Paul, thanks for serving up this topic. We'll see where the discussion goes.


I see your complaint about 2006. It settles in at 0.04. Do you dispute the numbers for 1992-2000?

Here is another useful chart: I make no aplogies for the NMA. If other commenters here want to dispute their data, then they should provide quantifiable evidence to rebut it.


As to your post, I would like to comment on the following:

Coal is actually becoming more difficult to mine as the truly productive seams have already been exploited and federal regulations require production of a cleaner coal product that costs more to produce.
Scrubbers installed over the last several years have reduced power plant sulfur emmissions, but not to a level acceptable to environmental activists.
The use of crude oil to power electric generation is not feasible given current constraints on new exploration in US controlled territory. Natural gas is even more problematic, but there are some options available.
Nuclear power is viable, but at a much higher price to consumers. I don't agree with your concerns about nuclear waste disposal; I think that can be accomplished at a market acceptable price in a manner that would solve environmental concerns.
The other sources, wind, solar and bio simply can't provide the capacity required to power a grid anywhere in the US.
There are vast deposits of natural gas in the Anadarko Basin in OK and in Alaska. These are feasible alternatives, but environmentalists, industry and Congress will have to reach a compromise. The Anadarko and Alasken deposits are only commercially recoverable at about triple the current price.
To wean the country from coal, there will have to be a cost equivalent or near so alternative. Remember, this nation's power grid was built long before Republican control of Congress. This is not a Republican/Democrat issue. It is a private market economic challenge that requires consensus...unless everyone wants hydro...in which case the enviromentalists will go to the matt.

Lee Ward:

"I see your complaint about 2006. It settles in at 0.04. Do you dispute the numbers for 1992-2000?"

I dispute all of the numbers you've cited because of the source - the National Mining Association has zero credibility in my book.

If the Union uses the same numbers I'm fine but I searched the UMWA site and couldn't find data on accidental deaths, and I would accept the numbers if they are the same ones used by the US department of labor.

Without a second source to back up the NMA's numbers I say "bogus" -- just as you would say "bogus" if I was using the union's numbers without verification from a second source.

I looked at the UMWA web site before i hyperventilated (heh) above, and could not find these or any other death stats.

I did not look at the US Dept of Labor, and don't intend to at this time.

Feel free to make your points using bogus data, and if you come up with any conclusions worth fact-checking I'll do my best to verify the stats were correct.

Since we are talking health and safety shouldn't we be including black lung statistics?

Lee Ward:

CDC/NIOSH Stats on Mining deaths - link They use MSHA data.

*note towards the bottom: "While there has been significant progress on preventing underground mine disasters, there has been an increase in the occurrence of injuries and fatalities due to methane explosions in underground coal mines in the past five years".

If anyone is handy with databases, here's a link to download the MSHA raw data. You have to build a database to use it.

MSHA raw data on mining deaths and accidents


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Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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