1st District Congressional candidate Mike Clark sent out the following comments via e-mail, focusing on safety and accountability in light of the deadly coal mine disaster in West Virgina.
"The issues surrounding the extraction and use of coal in this country continues, in a debate that is contentious yet necessary to address the future energy needs of this nation.
But the recent disaster at Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia really has little to do with any discussions of coal mining as part of future energy policy, and everything to do with the willful neglect of a company who's history of infractions grows more legendary by the day.
Upper Big Branch - only one in Massey Energy's large chain of non-union mines - was cited, according to press reports, for 600 violations in just over one year - two delivered to the company the very day of the deadly explosion that killed 25 workers, with four still missing. Many of those previous violations were for inadequate venting of methane - the problem that is widely considered to have contributed to the disaster April 5, the worst in the United States since 1984 and potentially the worst since 1970.
Most coal companies, and especially those represented by union workers, take precautions in the interest of safety. I believe most coal company owners sincerely care about the safety of their employees.
I am not prejudging Massey in this particular case. Perhaps there were system failures of one type or another. But the record is clear. If Massey existed as an individual who had violated law 600 times in one location alone, Massey would be jailed; yet the company is allowed to continue operations seemingly unfazed.
I call on our representatives in Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, to demand and/or initiate a serious and sweeping Congressional inquiry into Massey Energy and its subsidiaries, focusing on safety issues, environmental issues, and exploring all contracts between the United States government and any division of this company - particularly its contracts with the Tennessee Valley Authority, considered to be the largest user of coal in the country; all contracts with Massey should be immediately suspended pending the outcome of this investigation. Six hundred violations in one location alone simply cannot be ignored or left to the normal processes of appeal and adjudication. Twenty-nine families in West Virginia, countless co-workers and friends - and a grieving nation - demand something more.
If, as a result, Massey is forced to lay off employees, unemployment benefits should be fast-tracked to insure workers aren't left in the lurch due to this government action. Any fines or penalties ultimately levied - if so decided by a court of law - should be paid in a timely manner with interest and should at minimum be pegged to the total amount of unemployment payments issued during the investigation process.
East Tennesseans, like all Americans, pay our tax money faithfully, and with the understanding that government will be good-faith stewards of our dollars. In this time of economic distress, we need to insure that our money is spent wisely; TVA, or any government agency, should not enable this company or subsidiaries to continue business as usual. Our tax money and our energy payments directly enable this company to flagrantly violate laws designed to protect its workers; our money should be spent with companies that play by the rules.
We value rule of law; we value the safety of the miners, who walk with danger to power our necessities and our luxuries, who help improve the quality of our lives. We should demand our government spend our money with companies that treat its employees with all the dignity and respect they deserve. Companies are not individuals - they are businesses, subject to local, state and federal government rules and regulations.
In the end, it comes down to what we as a nation value most - the rights of a single corporate entity, or the rights and safety of individuals. No longer should the taxpayers fund outlaws who scoff at regulations designed to protect the very people who work every day to earn that company its profits."