West Virginia Record

Friday, December 6, 2019

Tragedy as opportunity

By The West Virginia Record | Jan 7, 2006

If there is to be one, the silver lining of Sago will come out of the intense reflection it compels.

Where did the company go wrong? Are there new technologies that might make coal mining safer? How can we prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future?

In 1968, after 78 West Virginia men died during a mine explosion and fire in Farmington, the U.S. Congress passed the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act. It strengthened the powers of inspectors and required annual mine inspections, making fines mandatory for violators while establishing criminal penalties for those in charge.

Time and hard evidence tell us that life has gotten safer for West Virginia coal miners as a result. 152 Mountain State miners died on the job in 1968. Last year, that number was just three.

But life has changed in myriad other ways since the Farmington disaster, and most of them aren't quite conducive to such changes for the better.

Today, some see such a disaster as just another chance to be self-serving.

In the media, we'll watch journalists emote their way through news cycles, wringing tears out of Sago until it's good and dry.

A select group of politicians will play glib, filling the media void by proposing knee-jerk measures that value sound over substance.

And the plaintiff's attorneys will draw a caricature of billionaire International Coal Group owner Wilbur Ross and his executives as uncaring corporate barons who greedily cut back on safety measures and put West Virginia families at risk.

In the postscript to Sago, don't believe the hype. And beware the ulterior motives.

They want ratings, they want votes, and they want million-dollar cash settlements, extracted with the help of distraught Sago families and their horrible suffering.

They don't want what our state really needs-- solutions that will lower the odds of this happening again in the future.

In the weeks ahead, let's put problem-solving ahead of finger-pointing. Or else the legacy of Sago will only grow sadder still.

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