TCS Daily

Mining the Media Distortions Yields Black Gold

By John Merline - January 11, 2006 12:00 AM

Here's a headline you aren't likely to see: "Sago mine tragedy defies improved mine safety trend under the Bush administration."

Yet, the facts support it.

Mining fatalities have dropped every year President Bush has been in the White House, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Since 2001, mining deaths averaged 63 a year, which is 30% lower than during the Clinton administration. The fatality rate has dropped as well -- it was 31% lower in 2004 than it was in the last year of the Clinton administration.

In fact, it was during the Clinton years that the long-term decline in mining deaths stalled out, only to return to its historic downward trend after he left for private life.

But rather than explore these trends, most stories painted an entirely different picture. For example, a Jan. 8 Washington Post story ("Sago Puts Spotlight on Safety Strategy: U.S. Mine Agency Issues Citations, but Penalties are Light") focused instead on the fact that under Bush "large fines are rare, and the most serious sanctions -- such as mine closure -- are almost never used," and provided ample quotes from critics who said this lax enforcement hurt safety. Bush, it helpfully reminded readers, "came into office with a promise to forge cooperative ties between regulators and the mining industry."

A Jan. 5 the New York Times editorial echoed this sentiment, complaining that "the Bush administration's cramming of important posts in the Department of Interior with biased operatives from the coal, oil and gas industry is not reassuring about general safety in the mines."

And USA Today's Jan. 9 editorial ("Latest coal tragedy reveals lax safety enforcement") complained that "federal regulators and judges have failed to use the tools they have to rein in those who don't comply with the law and force needed change." High dollar fines, it said, have dropped 12% under Bush as compared with Clinton.

If the drop in actual mine fatalities in the past five years is mentioned at all in these stories, it is largely dismissed. The Post devotes just one paragraph in a 1,400 word story to it.

These and other reports appear to assume that regulatory activity translates directly into increased safety. That may seem like a reasonable assumption. More inspections should uncover more problems. Bigger fines should encourage compliance. But the problem is it isn't necessarily so. Fines that are poorly administered, unfair, untargeted, random, or too excessive can and do backfire. They can encourage litigation against rules and discourage employers from asking regulators about ways to improve practices. If too onerous and intrusive, they can force conscientious businesses to close, perhaps leaving the field to those firms willing to trim corners and take bigger chances with worker safety.

At the very least, considering the drop in both deaths and death rates during the Bush years, when it comes to safety in the mines, the connection between tougher regulation and safety isn't entirely clear. Bush and Clinton have pursued different approaches to mine safety. And Bush's results appear to be superior.

It's an intriguing story to explore. But you wouldn't know that by reading the papers.

John Merline, a former editorial board member at USA Today, is a writer living in Virginia.


Media Distortions???
Good points by Merline.

We have the positives: fewer mining deaths and injuries.

We have the negatives: smaller and fewer fines for safety violations, important regulatory positions stacked with industry operatives, lax enforcement of safety rules.

We could also add what Merline failed to mention: the Sago coal mine was issued 208 citations by the MSHA in 2005, of all the fines issued between 2001 and 2003 less than half have actually been paid, maybe there is a problem with enforcement because there are 146 fewer positions at MSHA after Bush's latest budget, or maybe its because in 2001 Bush appointed a former mine executive to head the MSHA - and a little over a year ago he resigned in disgrace after awarding no-bid contracts to companies he and an assistant had ties to, mabye we should be concerned when the Administration moved routine investigations of mines to closed-door proceedings, and eliminated programs that allowed public access to records related to safety performance and accident investigations of mines.

Gee, why is the media picking on the poor President so unfairly? Hey, fewer deaths and injuries is a VERY good thing (it seems su****ious given the record). I wish someone would do some analysis and figure out how that is possible. Better technology? Fewer workers?

Sounds like the Washington Post gets the "most balanced" award for reporting the fact that there are fewer deaths and injuries in mines since Bush took over.

I know, lets ask the friends and family of the 12 who died at Sago if they think the media is distorting the story.

You almost hit it on the head in the third to last paragraph Merline. YES, regulatory activity does translate into increased safety. When the regulations ARE ENFORCED. You forgot that part, instead you ramble into some moronic talking point about unfair or random fines. You even got the word "litigation" in there. Perfect. That qualifies you as "conservative cheerleader". Good job, you succeeded in feeding the ignorants.

So who is responsible? The government? The mine company? The mine workers? NO! The media! Those *******s are criticizing our President, how unfair, how unpatriotic. Duh.

The vast majority of those sanctions are for things like rocks on walkways and broken hinges on fuse boxes.

If bob could get past his hatred of the current administration, he would at last find the truth.

If the mine can not operate safely and profitably then close it.
This whole regulation apparatus is unnecessary and only hurts the profitability of the mine in addition to soaking taxpayers. The fact is that if this mine or any other mine can not operate safely then it should be shutdown.

There is a simple experiment that the government can use to determine the value of mine regulation. That is to let some of the mines self regulate and some keep the current amount of regulation. If at the end of say 3 years the numbers in terms of accidents or what ever statistic are the same then stop regulation. If the regulated mines are safer then keep regulating.

In any case the regulation of the mines MUST be paid by the mine owners and ultimately their customers. The government agencies regulating mines should receive 100% of their funds from the mines themselves.

who gets the spare change?
"The government agencies regulating mines should receive 100% of their funds from the mines themselves."

Who gets the "tax surplus" resulting from this--us or them (the federal hogs)?

Really though, knowing the greed characteristic of federal agencies such a policy would be little more than open season on the mining sector.

How safe is safe?
The problem with your scenario, is that if you insist on perfect safety, every company in the country would have to close, not just the mines.

MarkTheComedian at it again.

How many of those 208 violations at Sago mine were for rocks on walkways and broken hinges?

You act like you know so much Marky Mark. "The vast majority", they must have a lot of rocks and hinges in that mine. LOL

If you could get past your love of the current administration, you could at last find the truth.

media distortions
bobjones says: "Hey, fewer deaths and injuries is a VERY good thing (it seems su****ious given the record). I wish someone would do some analysis and figure out how that is possible. Better technology? Fewer workers?"

A comment: Lowering injuries and deaths isn't just a "very good" thing, it is the ONLY thing! What other purpose is safety regulation supposed to serve except to improve safety, as measured by reduced injuries and deaths? BTW, the decline in miner deaths is not due to fewer miners. As I stated in the article, the fatality rate has declined under Bush as well.

Mark Knows all
and tells all,

but only to people who ask nicely.

bob, your only version of the truth comes in DNC pamphlets. Yet you seek to lecture others.

Since the only record bob is interested in listening to, is the broken one he receives in the mail from the DNC, it's not surprising that he can't believe any fact that disagrees with his predispostions.

Mark talks a lot but says nothing
Marky Mark, quit being such a *****. If you know so much, please, share some knowledge. You're a moron, but I'll listen to what you say.

All you do is talk about how smart you and attack people. Can you offer something useful???

Mark, your only verson of the truth comes in RNC pamphlets. Yet you seek to denigrate others.

media distortions
Thats a good point Merline (seriously).

It goes against common sense that injuries and deaths would decline during a period that safety regulation and enforcement also decline.

So what are the reasons? Did mining companies pick up the slack? Did the trouble mines get closed? Again, better technology? You say there aren't fewer miners, I tend to believe you, but not 100%. Given all the circumstances, WHY? I'm echoing questions from your article: whats the connection?

That was my point, lets find out why. Its a significant thing if its true that regulation does nothing to actually help mine safety. On the other hand, if there are circumstances that explain the improvement in safety despite the lax in regulation and enforcement, lets bring it out. The truth is what I seek. Blaming the media doesn't convince me. Giving Bush credit when all he's done is enforce the law less, seems disingenuous. It raises questions, not answers. Which is a good thing, unless one thinks he/she knows the answer and cannot accept that his/her answer may be wrong.

The media presented the facts, they didn't do the analysis. Thats why the Washington Post gets props, they at least presented there have been fewer injuries and deaths in the past 5 years. Put it in context, the media is doing a story because 12 miners died, do you really expect them to do an article that praises the President because there have been fewer deaths in the last 5 years? To glow about Republicans in the midst of a story about tragic death should be left to ideological pundits, and Fox News.

media distortions
bobjones says: "That was my point, lets find out why. Its a significant thing if its true that regulation does nothing to actually help mine safety."

That was the point of the article I wrote as well. But if no reporters ask the question, because they reflexively equate regulatory inputs with safety outputs, or because they are always looking for an opportunity to bash Bush, that question will never get answered.

I have said a lot
And everything I have had said can be proven by checking govt statistics.
You on the other hand can't get past your hatred of those who do better in life than you do.

No one's asking for perfect safety.. but
I live near the mine in Alabama that had 13 deaths 18 or so months ago.

That mining co. was fined by OSHA for safety violations after the deaths of the miners but had the fine reduced to $2500.00 by a mediator.

That comes out to less than $200 per miner killed.

tell me how this type of enforcement makes these men safer?

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