Three coal miners died on consecutive days—October 4, 5, and 6—leaving the invaluable mining reporter Ken Ward, Jr. asking what role the government shutdown played. It's extremely unlikely direct connections can be drawn, but there's no question that furloughs are affecting the number of inspections the Mine Safety and Health Administration can perform:
It’s true the MSHA and the Obama administration have tried hard to ensure that the agency’s furloughs did as little damage as possible to MSHA field inspection staffing levels. But it’s just as true that MSHA has moved from conducting its required inspections to performing “targeted inspections” from a so-far undisclosed list of high-hazard mines. No one has told the public how many of these targeted inspections MSHA is making. When I asked a Labor Department spokesman this question yesterday,this is what I was told:
I’m not sure they can do the fours and twos during a lapse in appropriations. We’ll have to see what’s doable.
While the MSHA did not point to the shutdown as a contributing factor in the deaths, it did suggest that lower weekend inspection
levels might be involved:
"Three miners killed on three consecutive days is extremely troubling," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "The fact that that this occurred over the weekend, when there may be a greater expectation an MSHA inspector would not be present, is a red flag."
The coal mining industry has not had three consecutive days of fatal accidents in more than 10 years, Main said. The last time was Dec. 26-28, 2002, and also included a weekend.
Shockingly, the mining industry doesn't think the shutdown could have contributed to the recent deaths, a denial that becomes even less convincing when Ward points out that the targeted inspections the MSHA is now running are similar to what the mining industry has long wanted to establish as business as usual. It's not just the mining industry that's fighting to weaken inspections, either. Congressional Republicans have enthusiastically taken part in that battle, and continue to block a bill that would improve mine safety. Now, the shutdown is taking care of all that for them.