Miners' Blood on Sarah Palin's Hands

06/13/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Sally Kohn Writer, progressive activist, Fox News contributor

If Sarah Palin were president, there would be more dead miners in America. At a time when Palin, the Tea Partiers and other ultra-conservatives are calling for the destruction of government comes a sad reminder of just how much government is needed and just how out of touch -- and irresponsible -- their anti-government tirades are.

The current anti-tax agenda is nothing more than new lipstick on the old conservative pig of a plan to kill government by cutting taxes and thus "starving the beast," as Grover Norquist infamously said. Tea Party posters say "Taxed Enough Already" even though our fiscal crises were caused not by too high taxes (which were actually cut for the middle class) but by lowering taxes on the super-rich under Bush. Sarah Palin has absurdly blamed government regulation for causing the Great Depression and suggested the solution to our current crisis -- one caused by deregulating the banks -- is less regulation, not more. Texas Governor Rick Perry said the biggest problem we face as a nation is "Big Daddy government."

Tell that to the families of the Upper Big Branch mine.

Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship called mine safety regulations "as silly as global warming." In 2008, Massey paid a $20 million fine to the Environmental Protection Agency, and that same year, a Massey subsidiary, the Aracoma Coal Company, pled guilty to safety violations and agreed to $4.2 million in civil penalties and criminal fines connected to the 2006 deaths of two miners in a fire.

Currently, Massey owes $7.6 million in safety violation fines, of which only $2.3 million has been paid. Last month alone, the Upper Big Branch mine was cited for 53 safety violations by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, many for inadequate ventilation of dust and methane gas and improperly maintained escape passages. Last year, the number of citations against the mine more than doubled, to over 500, from 2008, and the penalties proposed against the mine more than tripled.

Yet the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration was unable to adequately follow-up on enforcing penalties on these existing regulations. Why? Budget cuts.

Sarah Palin and her pals would cut federal funding for safety enforcement even more, driven by their coziness with corrupt big business and an ideological narrow-mindedness that the "free market" should be left as free as possible. That includes free to kill. The S&P reported after the Big Branch explosion that Massey Energy is still a good investment. By Palin and the Tea Party's calculation, as long as big business wins, it's worth it.

If Palin's pro-big business, anti-government agenda were in full force today, how many more miners would have died? Putting profits ahead of American lives doesn't sound like patriotism to me.

The tragic death of 29 miners at Upper Big Branch was preventable. Massey's safety violations were known and, with adequate tax funding, the Mine Safety Health Administration could have closed the mine well before it exploded. But to Sarah Palin, investigating safety violations and saving miners' lives would have been a horrible abuse of "big government." Something tells me the grieving families in West Virginia would disagree.