It happened after the Sago mine disaster in 2006, and it will most likely happen again, after 29 miner fatalities in an explosion in the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia: Lawmakers will seek new mine safety regulations.
But the question is: Will more regulation prevent more fatalities?
The New York Times sought commentary from various experts on the Upper Big Branch story.
The real lesson of this tragedy may be that the best way to make mines safer is to make politics cleaner, writes Jeff Goodell, author of Big Coal: the Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future.
Goodell says one reason mine safety reforms have failed is the political power of the coal industry. Politically connected coal operators make the case that reforms would be too onerous, too expensive and too difficult to implement, the author writes.
“In West Virginia, you mess with Don (Blankenship, head of the company that owns Upper Big Branch mine) at your peril,” according to Goodell.
On the other hand, a professor of Economics at the University of Arizona doubts more regulation will prevent more fatalities.
Price Fishback writes in the Times that several economic studies of workplace safety regulations show that accident rates fall very little after new regulations are passed.
Fishback says new laws establish practices that leading companies have already adopted. So the new requirements only improve safety for a small number of workers.
Bad publicity, stock price declines and higher workers’ compensation insurance premiums are bigger financial incentives for mines to work harder to prevent injuries and fatalities, according to Fishback.
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