USA Today Insists Mine Safety Fines Arent High Enough

     U.S. coal mines have become safer over the past five years while rapidly maintaining productivity and output, according to government statistics. In fact, the U.S. coal industry is 136 million times less fatal than the state-run Chinese mining industry, according to a Business & Media Institute analysis. Yet USA Todays Thomas Frank in his two February 10 articles focused on government regulations in the form of higher fines as the answer to safety.

     Frank led off his front-page article by comparing the $550,000 levied by the FCC for Janet Jacksons bare breast to the reduced fine of $3,000 for a deadly 2001 Alabama mine accident. Franks second article on page 3A traced how mine-safety penalties have changed little over the years.

     While the USA Today reporter did quote some defenders of current regulations, Frank left out the fact that U.S. mines have become less deadly every year since 2001, even as production hasnt significantly decreased.

     A Business & Media Institute review of government data found, for example, that mining employment grew from 2003 to 2004 by 4.1 percent while coal production jumped in the same time by 3.8 percent. In the same time frame, fatalities in U.S. mines decreased from 30 to 28. The following year recorded a low of 22, a remarkable decline from a recent high of 42 registered in 2000.

     USA Todays focus on small-dollar fines also ignored the larger context of U.S. mining for example, just how safe U.S. mines are when compared to coal-producing rival China. That populous communist nation has seen a rapid jump in production but has been unable to significantly increase safety in its mines.

     The number of total fatalities in Chinese mines in 2005 was 5,986, nearly level with the 6,027 people killed in 2004, AP business writer Elaine Kurtenbach reported in a February 10 article. Coal output rose 7.9 percent in 2005 to 2.11 billion tons, the commission reported, with average deaths per million tons at just over 2.7.

     At 22 deaths in 2005 in a year which produced 1,112 million tons of coal, the average death per million tons of U.S. coal is 0.0000000198 deaths per million tons, or over 136.4 million times safer for the average American coal miner than for his Chinese counterpart.

     The Business & Media Institute has previously documented how the media were quick to blame the mining industry for the recent Sago Mine tragedy and to call for increased government regulation.