Think Baby Think

Op-Ed by Bob Bogart

Can we locals learn anything from the recent disastrous events in the extraction industries?

Or does “It’ll never happen here” — and — “Jobs at any cost” pervade all thinking?

The recent mine explosion in West Virginia coal country killed 29 miners and now the BP oil rig blowout killed 11 workers and continues to create untold environmental damage.  These disasters should cause us to “think baby think” about the nature of extraction industries as well as all corporate promises.

There is a common thread in these disasters that we should try to learn from.  Despite so called “regulation” the safety of the workers and the surrounding communities is solely the responsibility of the company that is running the mine or rig.  Oversight tight enough to be effective has been ruled out by the screams of the companies as being too much bureaucracy and too costly.  Apparently it is cheaper to pay wrongful death claims than it is to “do it right” and obey the rules.

The Massey Mine was cited numerous times for safety violations.  The regulators and the mine owners just ignored the citations and kept going with very tragic results.

BP / Transocean / Halliburton did not listen to their workers or their well, nor did they maintain the blowout preventers that might have kept things from going out of control.  They promised that they would operate responsibly, but …  an oil drilling consultant now states:  “They have horribly underestimated the likelihood of a spill and therefore horribly underestimated the consequences of something going wrong.”

The underlying issue is that the vast majority of corporations are not in business to help their employees or their community.  They are in business to maximize their profits.  When it is a choice between employee safety or community well-being and profit, who wins?  Profit.   This is clear from more distant past events (including Enron, WorldCom, AIG, Madoff, Wall Street …) as well as these recent events.

Why is this important to Nevada County?  We have several mines that are trying to open or reopen.  We have heard from the proposed operators that “everything will be fine, just trust us.  We (the mine operator) will take care of the community, we won’t pollute your air or your water, we won’t drain your wells, we won’t clog the roads with traffic.”

Even before these recent examples of the total lack of responsibility by corporations, I was skeptical of these claims.  Nothing in recent events has given me the slightest reason to change my mind.  So I am asking that you give serious attention to any corporation that promises to be a good citizen.  If we allow these operations to move forward, they should do so only with the strictest of oversight and with iron clad parameters for shutting them down at the first sign of any violation of their promises.  I can hear the screams now, “If you force us to operate the way we promised to operate we will lose money (actually, we won’t make as much as we want) and we will have to shut down and lay off workers.”

We currently are fortunate to have a choice.  Ideally, we would prevent the most egregious operations from opening, regardless of the lure of a couple of jobs.  If they do proceed then we must make sure we put in place strict safety standards and environmental safeguards which are staunchly monitored by intelligent experienced regulators.  Otherwise we stand a significant chance of become the next community to be victimized by corporate criminals.  You choose.

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