Monday, January 09, 2006

Cronyism kills Again!: BushCo gutted MSHA enforcement, forced out Whistle blowers

Deep in your soul, you knew it was his fault.  And you were right.


When you saw the faces of the grieving families, the tragic pictures of the bodies being hauled to the surface, and W's sanctimonious mug pontificating from the podium,  you knew the whole thing stunk somehow.  Mine explosions?  dead workers?  Did we fall into a time warp back to 1920 somehow?  Didn't we have rules about worker safety to prevent this sort of thing?


Well the answers in reverse order are: yes we did once; and politically,  yes we have.


 Welcome to the New Gilded Age,  a place where MSHA engineers can be canned for having the temerity to demand  that large politically connected corporations play by the same safety rules as everyone else; and where politically connected foxes are given the job of protecting the chicken coop.


 This is a story you may already know but it's time to take another look at it in light of recent events.  Its the story of whistleblower Jack Spadaro  

Spadaro's Story Starts with the largest Mine Disaster in US History:



On Oct. 11, 2000, in Inez, Ky.,..a coal-waste reservoir the size of 306 Olympic-size swimming pools sprang a leak. Within six hours, 300 million gallons of thick sludge had flooded out of the Big Branch Refuse ...Ten days later, an inky plume appeared in the Ohio River. On its 75-mile path of destruction, the sludge obliterated wildlife, killed 1.6 million fish, ransacked property, washed away roads and bridges, and contaminated the water systems of 27,623 people. ...the EPA declared the spill the largest environmental catastrophe in the history of the southeastern United States...The Inez disaster was almost 30 times larger than the infamous Exxon Valdez tanker spill,


Jack Spadaro, head of MSHA's Mine Safety Institute, was brought in to investigate, and he As later he told 60 Minutes   uncovered evidence that the "accident" was really the result of gross negligence on the part of the Coal Company:



During the investigation carried out by Spadaro and his colleagues, it came out that there had been a previous spill in 1994 at the same impoundment. The mining company claimed it had taken measures to make sure it wouldn't happen again, but an engineer working for the company said the problem had not been fixed, and that both he and the company knew another spill was virtually inevitable.


Unfortunately soon after,  W got elected/selected/appointed, and someone decided to put the brakes on the investigation


(quoting the Atlantic monthly article again)

two days before President Bush's inauguration, Spadaro and his team were abruptly assigned a new boss to lead the investigation. Immediately after taking charge, Thompson told Spadaro's team that they had one week to conclude the investigation. ....Spadaro...had counted on having four or five more months to complete their work.


And then the Whitewash began in earnest:


The new head of MSHA, a Bush appointee named Dave Lauriski, was a former mining industry mining executive ,..Spadaro says Lauriski came into his office one day, and insisted he sign a watered down version of the report -- a version that virtually let the coal company and MSHA off the hook.


"He said , `I'm in a hard spot here and I need you to sign this report," recalls Spadaro. "I said, `You'd best take my name off that report because I'm never going to sign that report.'"

... in the end, Massey Energy was only cited for two violations, and had to pay approximately $110,000


Spadaro, for complaining publicly about the whitewash, and starting an IG investigation of no-bid MSHA contacts given to Lauriski cronies , was harassed and then railroaded out of the agency over a disputed $22.50 in Cash advance fees on his government issued credit cards:



[MSHA] deputy assistant secretary, John Caylor threatened to fire him if he didn't stop raising questions about the no-bid contracts.


Just one month after Caylor's threat, Spadaro's government credit card and travel records were audited. It turned out  he had used his government credit card to take out cash advances when he needed money to entertain dignitaries and students at the academy. The processing fees for those 13 cash advances totaled $22.60. ... Spadaro was told that his abuse of the credit card was a "serious offense."


If this charge had been anymore trumped up, they would have needed to bring out Ol' Live Weasel Toupe Himself  to tell Spadaro he was fired.  


Now I know you will be shocked to learn this, but it seems as if Massey Energy had a lot of friends in the new Bush Administration:


Massey Energy, Martin County Coal's parent company, gained a front-row seat to the new Bush administration when it invited James H. "Buck" Harless to join its board in 2001. Harless, a West Virginia coal and timber baron, had raised $275,000 for Bush's 2000 campaign, given $5,000 for the Florida recount, and contributed $100,000 to the president's inaugural fund. Bush nicknamed Harless "Big Buck" and invited him to join the administration's transition task force on energy. "We were looking for friends, and we found one in George W. Bush," Harless told The Wall Street Journal.


And that was only part of a larger industry-administration love fest:



 coal executives, threatened by Vice President Al Gore's green background and his pledge to increase taxes on fossil fuels, thought they could get a better deal with the Republicans--when they raised a record $3.8 million dollars for the 2000 federal election, 88 percent went to the GOP. At the annual meeting of the West Virginia Coal Association a few months after Bush's inauguration, the group's director told 150 industry executives, "You did everything you could to elect a Republican president. [Now] you are already seeing in his actions the payback."


Hmm. So they gave Bushco something, and they wanted something in return.  I thought that translated as "Quid Pro Quo", but my Latin must be rusty because THAT would be Illegal.


So what the hell does all this have to do with the Sago Mine Disaster?   I'd argue everything.  the Sago Mine had an Appalling safety record and had been cited for significant safety violations 208 times in 2005 alone  and even more significantly almost 3x the number of citations they had in 2004.  In other words, the mines operators were showing increasingly flagrant contempt for the safety rules and regulations  that MSHA set down.  And why not?  The firing of Spadaro proved that they had Friends at the Top of the Agency, and it would remain their toothless lapdog for as long as W was in office.


This isn't the First time That negligence by Bush's business cronies have killed the very people they are supposed to be saving.  I'd also lay money it won't be the last.   The real question is, when will it be enough?


How many more pictures of pain, loss, and tragedy, will it take before the outrage starts in earnest?


Update [2006-1-5 15:27:42 by Magorn]:
Read Vyan's Diary from this morning for even more excellent commentary on the Bushco Gutting MSHA and almost all of the other safety and regulatory agencies.

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