|COMMENT By Bob Weaver|
Forty seven years ago was the Buffalo Creek Disaster, a coal company containment dam broke killing 125 people in Logan County, mostly children, injuring 1,100 and leaving 4,000 homeless.
The coal company said it was an "act of God" and then Gov. Arch Moore agreed, years before he went to the dark side and took bribes and went to prison.
Frighteningly, invoking God has become a platform for American politicians, which wiser people should hold in reserve.
The struggle for families to be compensated by Pittson Coal ended with a payment of $13,000 to survivors. A second suit was filed by 348 child survivors, who sought $225 million, and it was settled for $4.8 million.
The state of West Virginia also sued the company for $100 million for disaster and relief costs incurred by the state, but Governor Moore settled for just $1 million, three days before leaving office in 1977.
This last week, after reviewing the details of the death of 29 miners at Upper Big Branch, the report said it was based on greed and entirely preventable, a brother of a deceased miner saying, "I hold Massey responsible. I hold MSHA responsible, I hold the state responsible. They all failed."
Government officials have gone after mine foremen and employees for the UBB disaster, now facing prison sentences for altering and covering-up records, while former CEO Don Blankenship is enjoying his multi-million dollar retirement.
Massey accumulated $2.4 billion in safety and environmental fines in the years since Buffalo Creek, playing a cat and mouse game with government overseers year after year, eventually settling for $200 million.
Only the PR has changed.
Mountaintop removal creates "Fields of Dreams" and much needed flat-land for development.
Today, in West Virginia, hundred's of coal waste dams loom over communities, but regulators say the public is much safer from a repeat of 1972.
In Martin County, Kentucky in 2000, a Massey dam collapsed spilling 300 million gallons of slurry, ending up in Big Sandy River along the West Virginia-Kentucky border.
It was one of the nation's major environmental disasters, 28 times larger than the Exxon-Valdez spill in Alaska.
It covered the area with seven feet of sludge, killing all the fish in the rivers, but it received minimal attention, as the Bush administration rejected a National Academy of Science recommendation for more inspections and regulations.
Since then, the coal industry, West Virginia politicians and Republicans in Washington continue to call for deregulation, particularly with mountaintop removal and its' destructive impact and spillage.
After years and years of struggle and protest with Massey, Marsh Fork Elementary School in Raleigh County has been closed and a new school has been built, the former school stands a few feet from a Massey processing plant and just down hill from an ominous dam with billions of gallons of toxic sludge.
West Virginians are still held hostage to declining coal jobs.
Being present at Buffalo Creek in 1972, I first learned the power of money and its politics and the meaning of oppression.
It seems 40 years later we have improved, with justice still elusive and frequently denied, but not enough to quell the pursuit.
Dozens of articles about Buffalo Creek are on the Internet, with books and films available.
See related stories 90 YEARS LATER: BATTLE AT BLAIR MOUNTAIN CONTINUES - Crimes Against West Virginians And Nature
CRIMES AGAINST WEST VIRGINIA - Blowing Up Mountains 'For The Sake Of The Children'
GOD IS TURNING HIS HEAD - The Battle Over Mountaintop Mining
HANSEN, ACTRESS DARYL HANNA, CONGRESSMAN KEN HECHLER ARRESTED AT MARSH FORK RALLY - 30 Arrested At Mountaintop Mining Protest, Tensions High