Friday, January 06, 2006

Mine safety under Bush

The San Jose Mercury News reports that mine safety enforcement has been diminished during the Bush administration. While the number of "violation notices" has increased in the last few years ("in 2005 the agency issued 4 percent more violation notices for all mines than it did in 2000"), enforcement surrounding those violations appears to have decreased.
In 2001, the mine safety agency had 1,181 coal mine enforcement workers. This year, the agency had about 1,080 workers. And the president has proposed a further cut to 1,043 in the current fiscal budget.

Cutbacks in enforcement officials mean that specialists who could concentrate on the most pressing safety issues - ventilation and roof cave-ins - have been pressed into service for the routine and mandatory inspections, former officials say.

An even bigger worry, McAteer noted, is the lack of timely follow-up inspections. The problem was highlighted by a 2003 Government Accountability Office study that found that 48 percent of all citations - including the most serious ones - weren't followed up on by the mandated deadline.
This reduced staffing and lack of followup appears to be reflected in some statistics reported in the article:
The number of major fines over $10,000 has dropped by nearly 10 percent since 2001. The dollar amount of those penalties, when adjusted for inflation, has plummeted 43 percent to a median of $27,584.

Less than half of the fines levied between 2001 and 2003 - about $3 million - have been paid.


In serious criminal cases, the number of guilty pleas and convictions fell 54.8 percent since 2001. In the first four years of the Bush administration, the federal government has averaged 3.5 criminal convictions a year; in the four years before that the average was 7.75 per year.
And it looks like the reduction in enforcement came from the administration itself:
"Right off the bat, when they [the Bush administration] came in they said we want to focus more on partnerships, alliances, working together with industry," said Celeste Montforton, who was special assistant to the MSHA chief for six years through December 2001. "They did feel there was too much of a focus on enforcement."

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