Local Paper Leads Way on Mine Disaster Coverage

With much of the national media’s focus turned to West Virginia today in the wake of yet another mine disaster, The Charleston Gazette is showing how strong coverage from local dailies can continue to provide value.

The Gazette’s main story is full of local detail about the logistics of the rescue effort and the impact on the community. On the paper’s Coal Tattoo blog, meanwhile, reporter Ken Ward Jr.—who’s previously been praised by CJR—is providing regular updates, along with an early look at the regulatory and policy implications of this episode.

Here’s a bit from one of Ward’s posts this morning:

In a story a few weeks back, I explained that only one in 10 U.S. coal mines had so far met the communications and tracking requirements of the MINER Act. That story took some heat from Randy Harris, a consultant for the West Virginia Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training. Randy felt I was unfair to the industry in West Virginia, where companies have for the most part moved to comply with a separate state law requiring communications and tracking equipment.

Sadly, though, the Upper Big Branch disaster indicates the importance of a difference between the West Virginia law and the MSHA regulations that grew out of the MINER Act … specifically, West Virginia rules require companies to track whether miners have entered a working section of the mine, but not exactly where they are on the section. By contrast, MSHA requires more specific tracking of where the miners are on the section — information that might be helpful right about now at the Upper Big Branch Mine.

Ron Wooten, director of mine safety in West Virginia, explained the state’s law during a briefing this morning:

West Virginia law requires that we know when people are moving onto a section. It doesn’t require that we track them on a section.

And Stricklin explained the MSHA requirement, and how it not being met yet by Massey Energy could have been a problem:

We know how many people are in that area, but we don’t know their exact location.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.