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Free Market Project

2/24/2006 10:00:18 AM

Updated 02/22/06

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USA Today Insists Mine Safety Fines Arenít High Enough
The untold story, however, is the trend toward increased safety and higher productivity in American mines.

By Ken Shepherd
Free Market Project
Feb. 10, 2006

Send this page to a friend! (click here)¬†¬†¬†¬† 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 Free Market Project analysis. Yet USA Todayís 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 Jacksonís bare breast to the reduced fine of $3,000 for a deadly 2001 Alabama mine accident. Frankís second article on page 3A traced how ďmine-safety penalties have changed little over the years.Ē

¬†¬†¬†¬† 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 hasnít significantly decreased.

     A Free Market Project 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 Todayís focus on small-dollar fines also ignored the larger context of U.S. mining Ė 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.

¬†¬†¬†¬† ďThe number of total fatalitiesĒ in Chinese mines in 2005 ďwas 5,986, nearly level with the 6,027 people killed in 2004,Ē AP business writer Elaine Kurtenbach reported in a February 10 article. ďCoal 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.Ē

     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 Free Market Project 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.


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