January 5, 2006

The New York Times’ Disgraceful (and Wrong) Opportunism in the West Virginia Coal Mine Deaths

January 6 Update Posts:


First, the obvious — The 12 deaths are an unspeakable tragedy, the families of the victims should be in everyone’s prayers, and any employer negligence that is found deserves swift and harsh punishment.

The blindly partisan blame-gaming without regard to the facts in this morning’s New York Times editorial is irresponsible. Here’s the worst paragraph (bold is mine):

Political figures from both parties have long defended and profited from ties to the coal industry. Whether or not that was a factor in the Sago mine’s history, the Bush administration’s cramming of important posts in the Department of the Interior with biased operatives from the coal, oil and gas industry is not reassuring about general safety in the mines. Steven Griles, a mining lobbyist before being appointed deputy secretary of the interior, devoted four years to rolling back mine regulations and then went back to lobbying for the industry.

How about the truth? Here is relevant data The Times could have easily accessed from the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration Coal Mine Fatalities page (chart created by me from raw data below):

Coal Mine Fatalities, 1995 -2005

Coal Deaths

Sourced Raw Data (number of deaths) by year
2005 – 22; 2004 – 28; 2003 – 29; 2002 – 27; 2001 – 42; 2000 – 38; 1999 – 34; 1998 – 29; 1997 – 30; 1996 – 38; 1995 – 47.

Contrary to what The Times would have you believe, the trend has been favorable (“reassuring,” if you will) for many years, especially the past four, where there has been a near-50% drop in fatalities. In fact, these results support the contention that staffing Interior with people who actually know their industry has led to greater safety. And where was The Times when coal mine fatalities increased over 40% during the last three years of the previous administration’s arguable responsiblity (1999, 2000, and 2001, given that a new administration’s first budget and full implementation of its priorities typically does not occur until October of its first year in office)?

The New York Times’ opportunistic criticisms before the wakes have even taken place are way, way out of bounds.

Some Additional Perspective from China

China’s mining boom has been deadly, and real corruption is to blame (bolds are mine):

The Cost of China’s Energy Boom: Miners’ Lives
November 10, 2005
By Zijun Li

China’s coal-mining industry is among the most dangerous in the world, resulting in the deaths of more than 2,600 workers in the first half of 2005 alone. As accidents occur with alarming frequency, the country is boosting its coal production at the high price of miners’ lives. While the government has devoted efforts to improving mine construction, safety equipment, and education, the underlying cause of these disasters remains: China’s heavy dependence on coal as its top energy source.

As the world’s largest coal producer and consumer, China produced 1.96 billion tons in 2004, accounting for 35 percent of the world total. It also has the world’s worst safety record, registering 6,009 mining-related deaths in 2004—a fatality rate of nearly three persons per million tons. (Unofficial estimates are even higher.) In contrast, the United States, the world’s second largest coal producer and consumer, produced 1 billion tons in 2004 but registered a death toll of 28, a rate of only 0.03 persons per million tons. Overall, the coal mining fatality rate in the industrial world averages 0.4. Thus, China’s mining-related death rate is almost 100 times that of the United States and 7.5 times that of the average industrial country.

The immediate factors behind China’s coal mining accidents include a lack of safety equipment, rampant collusion between local officials and mine owners, and poor education among miners.

Maybe Times columnist Nick Kristof can stop making excuses for Mao long enough to comment on this.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.


UPDATE: Welcome Michelle Malkin readers (thanks to Michelle for the link)! Also, RedState’s Leon H has a good post on how the left blogosphere has been trying to push the “Bush doesn’t care about safety” meme.

UPDATE 2: Tom Bevan at Real Clear Politics has more detail, including injury data. The trends in mining: DOWN.

UPDATE 3: More perspective from The Wall Street Journal (requires subscription): “We have come to believe that these kinds of accidents, with men trapped in a claustrophobic tomb full of poisonous gas, shouldn’t occur in 21st-century America — and happily they seldom do. These dozen deaths have commanded so much attention in part because mining accidents have become so rare. As recently as the 1950s, the coal mining industry lost 12 miners on average every week. Thanks to huge and steady investments in mine safety and technology, coal mining fatalities now average only about 30 a year — down from 1,000 a year in the first half of the 20th century. Injuries have been cut to 4,000 a year from 60,000. By contrast, China — which still uses primitive mining techniques and allows outrageous safety violations — has an estimated 5,000 or more deaths every year from avoidable mining accidents. Just last month, nearly 200 Chinese lost their lives in a coal mining accident in Henan Province — the third fatal Chinese coal mining accident in a week.”

UPDATE 4: More (will add to this as I find more) — Don Luskin, Anchoress, Second City Cop, Ace, Varifrank, The Kirk, S.O.B Alliance member Weapons of Mass Discussion, You Big Mouth You!, Mark in Mexico (who has a GREAT roundup), Super Fun Power Hour, Sublime Rage, Acerbic Recalcitrant (shameless stealing with attribution is welcome), The Right Politics, Mr. Eugenides, The Things You Believe You Are Seeing, Frank Warner (who goes back to the 1980s and notes that deaths also fell 50% during that supposed Decade of Greed), Cutting Edge of Ecstasy, Potbelly Stove, Curiouser And Curiouser, USS Neverdock, Glittering Eye, and Will the Spotter at MSNBC.com.

UPDATE 5: See my comments 14 and 17 for discussion of the impact employment and production might have had on fatalities. Quick answers: The fatality rate per unit of production HAS to be lower, because coal production hasn’t decreased at the rate fatalities have (in fact, production is probably a bit higher–UPDATEthis MSHA page, halfway down, indicates that production is up about 7% since 1995, and a bit less than 3% since 2000); and though employment has dropped during the time frame involved, fatalities per hour worked are still down an impressive 40% or so, the vast majority of it in the past four years.

UPDATE 6: The folks at Free Market Project point out two examples of unfair treatment of the coal industry in network news coverage — First, CBS’s passing off an industry critic as an unbiased expert; second, an NBC report that made a one-sided call for more regulation without presenting basic safety history.

UPDATE 7, Jan. 6: Coal miner headcount and fatalities by year since 1900 are here at the MSHA site.



  1. NYTimes blames Bush for miner tragedy

    In an editorial piece today that should surprise no one, the New York Times chose to play the blame game with the horrible miner tragedy in West Virginia where 12 of 13 miners were killed in a coal mine blast accident. The NYT:

    Political figures fr…

    Trackback by Sister Toldjah — January 5, 2006 @ 9:43 am

  2. [...] the stock with this paper? No wonder the stock has plunged! I am also adding a link to BizzyBlog so that you can see some historical data on mining over the last few years. Sadly, in the way mines a [...]

    Pingback by The Right Politics » Blog Archive » The Miner Tragedy, Bush’s Fault — January 5, 2006 @ 10:15 am

  3. Political Blame-Game: The WV Miners

    Already the New York Times has published a piece blaming Bush and “profits” for the deaths of the 12 miners in West Virginia-nevermind that the cause of the explosion has not been found yet.

    Of course, who can be bothered with waiting for the fac…

    Trackback by Right-Wing of the Gods — January 5, 2006 @ 10:17 am

  4. Is there similar data on general (non-fatal) injuries? I’d be curious to know if they follow the same trend; if they did, it would totally sink the NYT’s claims. As it stands, your argument is almost unassailable, and I would like to see it be completely so.

    Comment by Matthew M. — January 5, 2006 @ 10:33 am

  5. MSM: Someone Dig a Grave, We Feel Like Dancing On

    This editorial in the NYT today makes things somewhat official, “12 Dead Miners = Bush & Big Coal”:

    Trackback by EU Rota — January 5, 2006 @ 10:54 am

  6. #4, Very good idea. I attempted that just now by going to OSHA. The trouble is that the reporting formats for 2004 and 2000, which are the years I wanted to compare, aren’t comparable, and I’m afraid I’d make a mistake reading the data. So I’ll pass, since there are only so many hours in the day.

    Comment by TBlumer — January 5, 2006 @ 10:54 am

  7. Oh, come on now, you don’t expect the NYT to let some niggling little facts get in the way of a good Bush-bashing, do you?

    Comment by Jeff H — January 5, 2006 @ 11:01 am

  8. Thanks for the graph. I’m going to link it, too. (Not that I get the vast readership of Michelle Malkin, but it is possible that it doesn’t overlap.)

    Comment by eLarson — January 5, 2006 @ 11:26 am

  9. #4 again – Check out the Real Clear Politics link at Update 2 in this post.

    #8 – Thanks. The wider the distribution, the better.

    Comment by TBlumer — January 5, 2006 @ 11:28 am

  10. Moonbats claim Bush responsible for miners’ deaths

    But wait, Bush is clown shoes. He’s too stupid to do anything. Everyone knows it’s Bush’s brain, Karl Rove, who pulls the strings. That must be what forced the mine’s owners and the labor unions to cut corners and cause the explosion in the first p…

    Trackback by reverse_vampyr — January 5, 2006 @ 11:48 am

  11. [...] ob disecting the New York Times editorial blaming Bush for the coal mining accident in the West Virginia Coal Mine Deaths This entry was posted on Thursday, Januar [...]

    Pingback by The Kirk » Blog Archive » Bizzy on Media regarding mining deaths — January 5, 2006 @ 1:05 pm

  12. [...] #8217;t bother ‘em with facts, please, their on a roll. Bizzyblog, meanwhile, has a rebuttal with graphs. Overplaying and overextending. Again. My personal opinion is that the left and the pres [...]

    Pingback by The Anchoress » Wow, everything really is Bush’s fault! — January 5, 2006 @ 1:11 pm

  13. Question: Do we still have the same number of coal mines and coal miners that we did ten years ago? Is the amount of coal mined the same?

    If there are fewer mines and fewer people working them that wouldn’t necessarily mean that safety has improved. (Of course, if there are fewer people producing the same coal output due to more automation, that would count as safety improvement.)

    Not trying to shoot down the argument, just curious.

    Comment by Arnold — January 5, 2006 @ 1:12 pm

  14. #13, Valid point. The second-last sentence of the China excerpt in the post says:

    “In contrast, the United States, the world’s second largest coal producer and consumer, produced 1 billion tons in 2004 but registered a death toll of 28, a rate of only 0.03 persons per million tons. Overall, the coal mining fatality rate in the industrial world averages 0.4.

    OK, that’s a start. We’re by far safer than average, probably the safest in the world. Of course the big questions are whether that 0.03 is lower than maybe 10 years, and whether it’s lower per hour worked.

    I don’t think there’s any question that the 0.3 is lower because coal production certainly hasn’t decreased, and the fatalities have gone way down.

    Comment by TBlumer — January 5, 2006 @ 1:24 pm

  15. I followed the RCP link and his data are presented as rates per 100,000 workers. Is it the same for your data? If so, my question above is irrelevant.

    Since you didn’t label your Y-Axis I assumed it was just the total number of deaths.

    Ths X-Axis is year, right? ;)

    Comment by Arnold — January 5, 2006 @ 1:28 pm

  16. Does the graph take into consideration the number of mines that have closed in the last 10 years? Also, there is distinction made between “surface mines” and “underground” mines. The statistics above show a combination of both. I’m working on more detailed stats. Not saying the NYTimes is right, but you have to be careful about stats.

    Comment by Shannon — January 5, 2006 @ 1:54 pm

  17. #15 Arnold and #16 Shannon, I clarified the source data as number of deaths so there’s no doubt as to what it means (title is pretty clear already).

    To finish the thought on fatalities per hour worked, I just found this on the fatal injury rate per 200,000 employee hours at this link:


    NOTE: The stats below were corrected at 2:15 PM from what was posted at about 1:45 PM.

    Scroll down a little, go to “Coal Mine Safety and Health,” and look at the “Fatal Injury Rate” line–here are beginning, middle, and end numbers:

    1995 – .0398

    2000 – .0393

    2004 – .0273

    Fatality rate by the time you figure in 2005, which they didn’t list will probably be down by maybe 40%, because of productivity gains (fewer people needed to produce the same amount of coal) offset by what must be greater production of coal (meaning as a guess that the number of miners is probably pretty close to the same throughout the period, which if you look two lines above, you’ll see that there was a drop from 1995-2000, but pretty stable employment after that). The documented reduction is -31% (.125 improvement divided by .0398), and with 2005′s dip in the absolute number, the 1995-2005 improvement in the fatality rate should be pretty close to -40%.

    That should nail it. I don’t see any reason to go into the different types of coal mines, but you’re welcome to, Shannon. Let me know if you find one segment or more that’s having trouble.

    Comment by TBlumer — January 5, 2006 @ 1:57 pm

  18. Okay, thanks for digging up the data I was too lazy to dig up myself. I’m convinced. :)

    Comment by Arnold — January 5, 2006 @ 2:18 pm

  19. [...] nd farther apart. They can still happen, and that’s what happened in West Virginia. BizzyBlog has some graphics. The Real Clear Politics Blog has more. While a mass casualty event can indicate sa [...]

    Pingback by You Big Mouth, You! » Excavating for a Mine — January 5, 2006 @ 2:57 pm

  20. TBlumer,

    I’m convinced as well ;)But I’m an HRIS Analyst by day and statistics are a passion. I was getting my data from a different site http://www.eia.doe.gov/. They have great statistics on the the mines in the US down to the mine name and address. They also have the mine type and whether or not the mine is active. I was going to compare that with the data from the DOL site. But work is calling.

    Comment by Shannon — January 5, 2006 @ 3:04 pm

  21. I was watching the LOCAL evening news the night after the 12 miners were found dead and their graphinc showed that the current administration CUT funding for the federal mine inspectors. So, the obvious inference is that the fatalities were George Bush’s fault. Won’t these media scum EVER give up their partisan views? Sorry, rhetorical question.

    Comment by John Holliday — January 5, 2006 @ 3:39 pm

  22. New York Times anti-Bush bias on display

    Bizzyblog responds with the truth: Coal Mine Fatalities 1995 – 2005

    Trackback by Mark in Mexico — January 5, 2006 @ 3:50 pm

  23. NYT Exploits WV Mine Tragedy

    As predicted on yesterday’s Rush Limbaugh show, the Big Media play of the day has been to use the WV mining accident to bash Bush. (Is there any kind of occasion they can’t exploit?)

    Tom Blumer over at BizzyBlog has pulled this paragraph from a NY…

    Trackback by Potbelly Stove — January 5, 2006 @ 4:43 pm

  24. [...] ll coal mining deaths going down under the Bush administration. Media bias, anyone? More here.

    Related Posts:

    Why North Dakota Coal Isn’t Used MoreIraqis Blame BushA Different Kind Of Dis [...]

    Pingback by Say Anything - North Dakota’s Most Popular Political Blog » Bush To Blame For Coal Mine Deaths? — January 6, 2006 @ 12:05 am

  25. And where was The Times when coal mine fatalities increased over 40% …

    It is just 40, now 40%

    Comment by Kevin D. Korenthal — January 6, 2006 @ 12:44 am

  26. #25 – assuming you meant “not 40%”–

    Fatalities increased from 29 in 1998 to 42 in 2001, a 45% increase.

    Comment by TBlumer — January 6, 2006 @ 12:51 am

  27. [...] s not occur until October of its first year in office)? See the 10-year bar chart and more here. BizzyBlog seems to be following this story very closely. This baffles me. Does he expe [...]

    Pingback by SoCalPundit » The Truth About Coal Mining Accidents In The United States — January 6, 2006 @ 12:57 am

  28. Saddam was really doing quite well, from a human-rights perspective then: mass killings were in a decline.

    This rational is just another apologist’s argument.

    Either human life has a priority over profits for the already mega-wealthy or it doesn’t. The fact that ‘our policies don’t kill as much as they used to’ is of little relevance.

    Comment by Joe — January 7, 2006 @ 1:12 pm

  29. Just some more data, inconvenient for the Bush-bashers:


    Interesting to note scrolling down to the totals at the bottom, that for any year 2001-2006 (Bush) the number is lower than for any year 1993-2000 (Clinton and Algore, Champions of the Environment). Mine safety has been significantly improved since 2000. Maybe that’s just a coincidence – but the idiots who are trying to pin the miners’ deaths on lax safety enforcement under Bush, are simply wrong as well as stoopid.

    Comment by TheTruthShallSetYouFree — January 7, 2006 @ 1:15 pm

  30. #28, Joe, the point is that over the last 4 years, “our policies” on coal mine safety have resulted in fewer accidental deaths (your best hope is to claim that a 4-year improvement streak is luck–not likely). It’s not about “killing,” and it’s dishonest to act like it is.

    Everyone is shooting for zero accidental deaths from coal mining. Despite the awful tragedy of the Sago 12, the facts, which are indeed stubborn things, say we’re closer to that than ever.

    Comment by TBlumer — January 7, 2006 @ 1:22 pm

  31. [...] ing Else, NYT Kind of hard to blame this one on Bush: Source data: BizzyBlog. Technorati: BDS, Bush, mines, mine deaths, mine safety, moonbats, liberals, [...]

    Pingback by Right Wing Nation » Find Something Else, NYT — January 7, 2006 @ 2:53 pm

  32. #30, excuse me. I should have stated ‘our policies do not cause as many preventable, accidental deaths as they use to’.

    Plenty of reason to cheer. :|

    It is dishonest to infer that knowly choosing not to inforce policies that save lives is different than ‘killing’.

    Comment by Joe — January 7, 2006 @ 3:38 pm

  33. #32 – 22 is less than 40-something, last I checked. Nobody’s cheering, just noting improvement. Nobody will cheer until it’s zero. Your loaded words really bite.

    It is dishonest to infer that knowly choosing not to inforce policies that save lives is different than ‘killing’.

    First you don’t know that, and second, they ARE different.

    Comment by TBlumer — January 7, 2006 @ 3:54 pm

  34. Coal mine safety

    There’s been a flurry of newspaper articles and posts wondering whether more could have been done to increase the safety in coal mines in the aftermath of the death of twelve coal miners this week. Our heart go out to the friends and families o…

    Trackback by The Glittering Eye — January 7, 2006 @ 7:32 pm

  35. Someone Actually Gets It

    BizzyBlog and the Glittering Eye actually get it right. Coal mine fatalities are down during the Nutjob-controlled congress and Bush administration. The Glittering Eye gets a couple numbers wrong in their post (see number of coal miners here), but othe…

    Trackback by Locus Medius — January 8, 2006 @ 3:20 am

  36. Mine Where Explosion Occurred Was Cited for Hazards (Update2)

    Bush White House easy on mine safety violators

    Comment by RPG — January 9, 2006 @ 10:47 am

  37. #36
    Likely that over the past 4 years deaths and injuries are down to record-low levels (both indisputably true) because of cooperative instead of adversarial relationship. If “lax enforcement,” which in some peoples’ minds means maximizing fines and not working with companies to improve safety, leads to zero deaths, I’ll take it any time.

    As noted earlier, I want to full investigation results for this particular situation before concluding if the Feds had any involvement in blowing this one.

    Otherwise, the record speaks for itself.

    Comment by TBlumer — January 9, 2006 @ 10:57 am

  38. Nothing meaningfull can be determined from such a small sample size, it terms of are mines safer then they were during the Clinton years (A random (bad) event will swamp the results). Also other data needed to fully determine safety is not present…. Namely the amount of coal mined and number of man hours worked.

    Overall American mines are just about the safest in the world and to see this you should look at mining related data in places like China, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Great Britan and so forth. Of course in America because of policies forced into place by by Union demands and liberal bleeding hearts for worker safety (OSHA) are why American mines are so much safer then ones in China and elsewhere, even if it may not be cost effective to have such high levels of safeness.

    In terms of cost, the calls for aditional safety messures will probably not be cost effective in that the number of lives saved in a year will not worth the additional safety messures cost (capital and potential productivity losses). Of course this gets to the problem that some people think a human life is priceless
    and it isn’t. In the end miners know that there is a chance to die horribly and because of that many people will not work in a mine and for those that do, high compensation is what companies pay to get workers. They are paid for working in a high risk enviroment. There are other high risk enviroments where workers do not get paid as well (Farm labor comes to mind).


    Comment by LibertarianDan — January 23, 2006 @ 2:59 pm

  39. #38 Dan, a number of comments addressed your concerns about the bigger picture. See #17 above re deaths.

    See this post that has more info:

    Also, visit the links at both places.

    Also go here for some more injury-related stuff:
    Real Clear Politics

    Comment by TBlumer — January 23, 2006 @ 3:26 pm

  40. You have really done a good job on this. Keep it up!

    Comment by Bills Baseball Bat — January 26, 2006 @ 8:43 pm

  41. Great blog. Found your blog while searching for more information at yahoo about this post . Your blog has quite a lot of interesting thoughts. Keep up the good work!

    Comment by http://www.adobe-acrobat.info-a1.com — January 30, 2006 @ 2:21 pm

  42. I cannot believe China produced 1.96 billion tons in 2004

    Comment by rich jerk — February 12, 2006 @ 10:48 pm

  43. #42, I’m assuming you think that’s high, and if so, the fatalities per ton produced are also higher?

    Comment by TBlumer — February 12, 2006 @ 11:17 pm

  44. Well, with 17 years experience in coal mining, I think I’ve got the right to say a couple of things.

    First, holding up China as any kind of comparision for anything relating to US or European safety standards is flat wrong. The Chinese govt has demonstrated repeatedly that it cares nothing for any uneducated (read: peasant) life. Safety standards are poor at best, and unenforced at even that level.

    Second, the correct statistic for mine safety is deaths per million tons of production. Deaths as a raw number mean nothing, you may have a country that has produced only one million tons and had zero deaths, while another country produces five hundred million tons and has twenty deaths, but the one million ton country falls outside the statistical probabilities curve established by the five hundred million ton country.

    A raw number of “deaths” is meaningless unless tied to production levels in the country in question.

    The USA produces about 1.1 billion tons of coal per year.


    The concern about deaths in mining is due to the fact that an unusual number of fatalities are coming from a single region, West Virginia, which the reporter from the Gray Lady appears to have missed completely.


    What is going on in WV is not known to me, whether they are informing mine operators of inspections before they happen or whether they simply aren’t having inspections, or maybe just a run of bad luck, but they are way outside the normal curve. And that’s the reason for the concern.

    And no, I wasn’t a union man, I worked for the company directly.

    Comment by MadSat — June 29, 2006 @ 11:16 am

  45. #44, thanks for the comments.

    China — I “held up” China because at the time of the post the criticism of Bush was that he had somehow allowed MSHA to go light on inspections and fines and was “responsible” for the deaths. The same critics of mine safety have been “strangely” silent about the disgraceful Chinese safety and environmental situation for years, and IMO that silence denies them the right, in the absence of concrete evidence of which there is none, to claim that Bush HIMSELF is to blame, which is where the NYT and others were attempting to go.

    Fatalities and injuries per ton of production are valuable, but I think the starting point would be per-hour stats, which are addressed here:

    That post shows that from 1995-2004, fatalities per hour worked went down 40%. As to coal production, here’s a sublink I got to from yours that shows the whole US picture by category:

    Basically, production is up very roughly 5% or so from 1995, so the reduction is fatalities per ton will be just a bit greater than the reduction in fatalities per hour.

    As to the WV problem, I think that could be a very good point that was “missed.” It was “missed” by the NYT and others because I think most people assume that almost all coal comes from WV, so “coal mining” and “West Virginia” are (erroneously) almost synonyms.

    If my eyeball review is correct, this year 19 of 33 coal mining fatalities have been in WV:

    That means that 2/3 of the non-Sago fatalities have NOT been in WV (14 of remaining 21). I don’t know if you could call that a trend reversal, but perhaps it’s a sign of improvement.

    Maybe not. This info is dated, but indicates that only about 15% of all coal production is in WV (that surprised me – I expected about 40%):

    So even excluding Sago, WV’s share of fatalities is higher than it should be. I think someone would have to mix in sub-surface v. surface mining to really finish the analysis job.

    Comment by TBlumer — June 29, 2006 @ 11:47 am

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