NY Times Editorial Blames Bush for Coal Mine Tragedy; Fatality Records Refute Claim

First, state the obvious -- The 12 deaths are an unspeakable tragedy, the families of the victims should be in everyone's prayers, and any employer negligence that is found deserves swift and harsh punishment.

The blindly partisan blame-gaming without regard to the facts in this morning's New York Times editorial is irresponsible. Here's the worst paragraph (bold is mine):

Political figures from both parties have long defended and profited from ties to the coal industry. Whether or not that was a factor in the Sago mine's history, the Bush administration's cramming of important posts in the Department of the Interior with biased operatives from the coal, oil and gas industry is not reassuring about general safety in the mines. Steven Griles, a mining lobbyist before being appointed deputy secretary of the interior, devoted four years to rolling back mine regulations and then went back to lobbying for the industry.
How about the truth? Here is relevant data The Times could have easily accessed from the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration Coal Mine Fatalities page (chart can be found here):
Sourced Raw Data by year -- 2005 - 22; 2004 - 28; 2003 - 29; 2002 - 27; 2001 - 42; 2000 - 38; 1999 - 34; 1998 - 29; 1997 - 30; 1996 - 38; 1995 - 47.
Contrary to what The Times would have you believe, the trend has been favorable ("reassuring," if you will) for many years, especially the past four, where there has been a near-50% drop in fatalities. In fact, these results support the contention that staffing Interior with people who actually know their industry has led to greater safety. And where was The Times when coal mine fatalities increased over 40% during the last three years of the previous administration's arguable responsiblity (1999, 2000, and 2001, given that a new administration's first budget and full implementation of its priorities typically does not occur until October of its first year in office)?

The New York Times' opportunistic criticisms before the wakes have even taken place are way, way out of bounds.

Some Additional Perspective from China

China's mining boom has been deadly, and real corruption is to blame (bolds are mine):

The Cost of China's Energy Boom: Miners' Lives November 10, 2005 By Zijun Li

China's coal-mining industry is among the most dangerous in the world, resulting in the deaths of more than 2,600 workers in the first half of 2005 alone.

As accidents occur with alarming frequency, the country is boosting its coal production at the high price of miners' lives. While the government has devoted efforts to improving mine construction, safety equipment, and education, the underlying cause of these disasters remains: China's heavy dependence on coal as its top energy source. As the world's largest coal producer and consumer, China produced 1.96 billion tons in 2004, accounting for 35 percent of the world total.

It also has the world's worst safety record, registering 6,009 mining-related deaths in 2004—a fatality rate of nearly three persons per million tons. (Unofficial estimates are even higher.) In contrast, the United States, the world's second largest coal producer and consumer, produced 1 billion tons in 2004 but registered a death toll of 28, a rate of only 0.03 persons per million tons. Overall, the coal mining fatality rate in the industrial world averages 0.4.

Thus, China's mining-related death rate is almost 100 times that of the United States and 7.5 times that of the average industrial country. The immediate factors behind China's coal mining accidents include a lack of safety equipment, rampant collusion between local officials and mine owners, and poor education among miners.
Maybe Times columnist Nick Kristof can stop making excuses for Mao long enough to comment on this.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.