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MONDAY, JANUARY 30, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Empty gestures will not make Alabama mines safe

On the subject of coal-mining safety, Alabama and West Virginia provide a contrast between empty gestures and significant action.

Less than five years ago, two explosions killed 13 miners at Brookwood in Tuscaloosa County. Elected leaders attended memorial services, but the cash-strapped state actually cut the annual budget for its mining and reclamation division to $499,000 this year from $691,000 in 2001. The state reduced its number of mine inspectors to three from six.

A few weeks ago after a mine explosion in West Virginia killed 12 men, the Alabama Senate passed a resolution urging Alabama regulators to "obey and enforce state coal mining laws." But no new money was appropriated. (That resolution is like spilling coffee on a dark suit: It gives you a nice, warm feeling all over, and nobody notices.)

In West Virginia, which lost two miners in another accident this month, legislators quickly approved their governor's proposals to improve mine safety by tracking underground miners better, stockpiling oxygen for trapped miners, and responding more effectively to emergencies.

On Wednesday, a Bessemer judge found Alabama's mine safety efforts lacking. In a lawsuit brought by the United Mine Workers of America, Circuit Judge Dan King gave state officials 10 days to conduct mine inspections in a region west of Birmingham. Testimony made it clear that inspections are too infrequent statewide.

Alabama needs to put muscle and money into its mine regulations before another tragedy occurs.

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