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A century ago coal mining was a murderous industry. Miners sometimes died by the hundreds. As a result of government regulation and technology, conditions are much safer. But mining isn't yet as safe as it could be, nor is it as safe as it should be.

We're now living with the legacy of David Lauriski, a Bush Administration appointee who has relaxed enforcement, arguing that "voluntary compliance" works better than regulation by a federal agency. Fines issued by MSHA have been criticized as too low.

As in the old days, many aspects of personal safety are left to the miners. Why should miners have to "build" a shelter in the event of fire or explosion? Why do they still fear for their jobs if they speak up?

There are many safety practices which are not currently mandated that could save the lives of coal miners. Modern communications systems, access to backup self-rescuers, and pre-existing safe rooms with oxygen stores are just some examples. Rescue team basing requirements and procedures have also been questioned.

But many coal mining corporations have declined to implement such precautions voluntarily. Safety costs a little more, and all too often safety becomes a political issue.

It seems coal corporations don't mind spending money so they don't have to spend on safety. The coal mining industry contributed $2.3 million to political campaigns in 2004 alone, 90% to Republicans. If concerned citizens don't speak out, our elected officials will hear only the voices of the industry.

It is time to explore methods of improving safety in the nation's coal mines. It is time to force compliance, time to protect the miners.

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The moderator of Sago Outrage is a former union safety rep, and has written about the history of coal mining in Colorado.

This group is called Sago Outrage for a very simple reason: it is outrageous that voluntary steps recommended by MSHA but *not* taken by the company probably could have saved most of the Sago miners.

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