Over the years, the federal government has done far less than it should — and far less than the law requires — to guarantee the safety of Appalachia’s miners. So it was a welcome break with grim history when the Labor Department asked a federal judge last week to shut down a Kentucky mine owned by the Massey Energy Company. The mine has been cited for about 700 safety violations this year alone.
Massey is also the owner of the violation-plagued Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, where a methane explosion killed 29 workers in April. The company is reportedly the object of two grand jury investigations in connection with that disaster.
The safety record of the mining industry in this country can only be described as abysmal. So too is the history of regulation. It remains to be seen if Massey Energy will be held criminally accountable for the 29 deaths. But the lack of accountability for violent crimes is part of the history of white-collar crimes in the U.S. Many people, especially those connected to the criminal justice system, don't make the connection between the actions of corporations and criminal accountability. Too bad, because more people might still be alive if criminal sanctions were sought.