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Jeff Biggers: Hold Mining Industry 'Outlaws' Accountable (VIDEO)

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CNN's Kiran Chetry conducted an interview today with Jeff Biggers, journalist and author of "Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland", in which Biggers discussed the "continual state of violation" that exists in the mining industry. Biggers hit on and expanded upon many of the same concerns that he provided the Huffington Post this morning (read Biggers' post, "Tip of Iceberg of Massey's Titanic Violations: 72-Foot Tidal Wave of Coal Sludge Looms Above Affected Mining Communities"), including a call for greater accountability:

CHETRY: Yes, and you also write that all of the regulations that we have are written with the blood of miners that were killed in prior accidents and after the deadly accident at Sago, they wrote the Miner Act of 2006. Now that was supposed to make mine safer by upping these fines for safety violations. So four years later, why are we still talking about a mine with hundreds of violations just in this past month alone still up and running and another accident?

BIGGERS: Exactly. It is really time now we have a reckoning with these regulations and we have to start holding the outlaws, the people who literally are flaunting the laws at the expense of the lives of American citizens and our coal miners and bring them to justice and have some sort of accountability. I think we have to get beyond this mentality that a crisis is never a crisis until we validate it with some sort of disaster.

Emphasis mine, because that should be a media mantra. ThinkProgress's Brad Johnson posted a detail-rich item yesterday documenting "two past incidents that foretold [Massey Energy CEO Don] Blankenship's latest disaster." Between the documented influence peddling, the abuse of political connections, and the specific actions that were taken to call off the regulatory dogs, the signs of future calamity were everywhere.

ON CNN, Biggers called for "immediate action from the Obama administration" and from regulators. "We are fed up with this," Biggers said, adding, "we have to have an energy policy that looks at the welfare of our workers, the welfare of our communities and really recognize this health crisis that happens daily within the coal fields."

WATCH:

[TRANSCRIPT FOLLOWS]

CHETRY: Joining me from Peoria, Illinois, right now is Jeff Biggers, award-winning journalist and author of "The Reckoning at Eagle Creek Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland." Jeff comes from a family of miners. His own grandfather barely survived a mining accident. Thanks so much for being with us this morning, Jeff.

JEFF BIGGERS, AUTHOR "RECKONING AT EAGLE CREEK": Thanks for having me.

CHETRY: It seems that every time there is a tragedy like this at a mine, the nation focuses its attention once again on this profession. And there is a sense among many that mining is just inherently a deadly job and that accidents like this are the nature of the beast. Do you agree or do you think that in this day and age, we shouldn't be talking about accidents like the one we saw at this mine?

BIGGERS: I think you are 100 percent correct. You know, in this day and age, we should really end this era of what we call regulated manslaughter. You know, so many of these accidents, and they are not accidents, they are disasters in waiting, happen because we allow companies to operate in a continual state of violation.

And I think the people in Coal River Valley and in coal fields across the nation, you know, we mine coal in 24 states, are really getting fed up with the regulatory policy that allows these disasters to happen.

CHETRY: Yes, and you also write that all of the regulations that we have are written with the blood of miners that were killed in prior accidents and after the deadly accident at Sago, they wrote the Miner Act of 2006. Now that was supposed to make mine safer by upping these fines for safety violations. So four years later, why are we still talking about a mine with hundreds of violations just in this past month alone still up and running and another accident?

BIGGERS: Exactly. It is really time now we have a reckoning with these regulations and we have to start holding the outlaws, the people who literally are flaunting the laws at the expense of the lives of American citizens and our coal miners and bring them to justice and have some sort of accountability. I think we have to get beyond this mentality that a crisis is never a crisis until we validate it with some sort of disaster.

You know, I think most Americans don't know that three coal miners still die daily from black lung disease. You know, this is the inhalation of coal dust. That's a thousand coal miner every year dying needlessly because we are not enforcing regulations just on coal dust alone from black lung disease.

CHETRY: And so, you know, you talk about creating towns with monoeconomies. Basically the majority of jobs in a community come from the mining industry so how do you help widen out opportunities in communities like this as we eventually will start to see the production of coal fall off over the next decade?

BIGGERS: Exactly. We know for the first time in 25 years, we have had stockpiles of coal during the summer. That we need a just transition in the coal fields to make the coal fields ground zero for our clean energy revolution. You know, my cousins who work in the coal mines want to shift toward a clean energy future just like their children and just like all American citizens, they want to have a work place that is safe and a workplace that is going to be part of a clean energy future. And this means we really need to begin the very hard discussion about how we work toward a coal free future.

You know, I think this accident really is the tip of the iceberg. If we look at the titanic Massey violations, just above this mine, in the same community where all the journalists are now, there is a huge billion dollar gallon coal slurry impoundment. And Massey Energy is also blasting near this coal slurry impoundments and threatening the lives of the people below.

Because this is what we call a mountain top removal operation. It's one of these reckless strip mining operations. And the blasting now is within a football field of this huge and very weak and potentially dangerous coal slurry impoundment. If it breaks and everyone should listen to this. If this coal coal slurry impoundment breaks and goes down to the same villagers who are working underground, over 1,000 people will have less than 15 minutes to flee a 72-foot tidal wave of coal slurry.

And this is part of this whole continual state of violations from below ground to above ground, from underground mining to mountain top removal that we really have to bring to an end.

CHETRY: And what is the solution? Because, again shall as we talk about it, it seems that every time there is one of these disasters, what happened at Sago and then the Crandall Canyon, people say, changes have to happen. These mines have to be shut down if they are in violation. Things like what you just described can't be allowed to exist as this looming threat over a community. Yet, days go by, months go by. Years go by and we still see the same thing happening.

BIGGERS: Exactly. And therefore, we really have to have immediate action from the Obama administration. We need to have immediate action, of course, from MSHA. We have to make sure that we are not only having four federal inspections per year, with the same policy we had since 1969. But in fact, we have to provide the funds to make sure these mines are investigated at least and inspected six to eight times per year.

But most importantly, it's time we crack down on the outlaws in the coal industry and say that we are fed up with this, that we have to have an energy policy that looks at the welfare of our workers, the welfare of our communities and really recognize this health crisis that happens daily within the coal fields.

CHETRY: Jeff Biggers, author of "Reckoning at Eagle Creek." Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

BIGGERS: Thank you. And once again hope always dies last in the coal fields. And our hearts and prayers are with the coal mining families and the four that we are still hoping to rescue.

RELATED:
Don Blankenship's Record Of Profits Over Safety: 'Coal Pays The Bills' [ThinkProgress]

PREVIOUSLY, on the HUFFINGTON POST:
Jeff Biggers: Tip of Iceberg of Massey's Titanic Violations: 72-Foot Tidal Wave of Coal Sludge Looms Above Affected Mining Communities

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not? Also, please send tips to tv@huffingtonpost.com -- learn more about our media monitoring project here.]

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