(03/20/2006)
By Bob Weaver

The 20th century mine wars were fought with clubs, fists and guns as coal miners defended their rights to a living wage and safety conditions.

The coal companies and the State of West Virginia once fought the "insurrections" by using police force and the US Army to beat them back.

Now, the "wars" are being fought by politicians who have vowed to improve safety conditions for all miners, since the recent spate of deaths.

The owner of the Sago Mine now says the cause of the January 2nd explosion that killed 12 miners was a lightning strike.

Woe be it, a flashback to Buffalo Creek, where the collapse of a sludge dam killed 125 men, women and children, declared by Pittson Coal as an "act of God."

A position reinforced by the folks at the Mouth of the Elk, including Gov. Arch Moore, among the state's most illustrious gangster governors.

Now, we have Gov. Joe Manchin, standing tall for miners and their safety.

International Coal Group Chief Executive Officer Ben Hatfield says the company investigation indicates that lightning ignited methane gas that had accumulated in a sealed-off area of the Upsher County mine.

Hatfield says weather monitors confirmed an unusually large and powerful lightning strike near the mine and the US Geologic Survey confirmed a seismic event at Sago.

Last month a former Sago Mine foreman was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that he falsified inspection reports at the mine in 2004.

Robert Dennison, who has pled not guilty, was never certified as an underground miner or a mine foreman. The 116-count indictment against Dennsion is not related to the January explosion.

If convicted of all counts, Dennison faces up to 580 years in prison and nearly one-point-nine million dollars in fines.

When coal firms' violations were blamed for deaths, injuries and risks to miners from Alabama to West Virginia, the companies were slapped with more than $1.3 million in penalties.

The mine penalties went largely unpaid.

The amount of unpaid federal fines has risen sharply in the past decade.

Individuals and corporations avoid large penalties for wrongdoing through negotiations. In WV it is not uncommon for companies go bankrupt and start-up elsewhere.

The violations of US safety and environmental laws is a white-collar crime that has resulted in unpaid fines and payments of $35 billion still being owed.

Fines are announced by government officials as proof that they are cracking down, but more often than not, the orders are quietly negotiated to just a fraction of their original amounts pennies on the dollar.


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