Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Back to Assigning Blame

It is a simple matter of learned behavior.

Mine operators who face no negative incentives for creating unsafe work conditions for their miners will, more times that not, create unsafe work conditions, which might lead to lethal consequences in a disaster. The federal government is really the only agent strong enough to discourage the creation of dangerous work conditions. George W. Bush is the chief executive of the federal government and what has happened under his watch?

According to a Knight-Ridder report, what has happened is weak and flawed enforcement:
Since the Bush administration took office in 2001, it has been more lenient toward mining companies facing serious safety violations, issuing fewer and smaller major fines and collecting less than half of the money that violators owed ....

At one point last year, the Mine Safety and Health Administration fined a coal company a scant $440 for a "significant and substantial" violation that ended in the death of a Kentucky man. The firm, International Coal Group Inc., is the same company that owns the Sago mine in West Virginia, where 12 workers died earlier this week.

The $440 fine remains unpaid.

Surely a man's life is worth at least $440.

The report goes on to say that, while inspectors have been citing mine operators in the field, those citations are rarely backed up with hard penalties, even for the worst offenders. Guilty pleas and convictions of violators have dropped 55% since 2001. Bad behavior has been learned.

Back to the question of assigning blame that I posted a few days ago: presidential leniency toward law breakers, who just happen to be mine operators, indicates that the Bush administration is very much on the hook for its law enforcement failures.

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