The sequester might be saving money for the government, but the cuts are risking lives of U.S. miners. The federal agency for mine safety has been informing states that much of their grant money for safety will soon cease to exist due to budget cuts.
In a letter to stakeholders Joe Main, the assistant secretary of Labor for Mine Safety, told state officials to brace themselves for a substantial cut in funding. Though the letter did not specify how much of the grant money would be cut, state officials are expecting as much as two thirds of their funding.
The grants from Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) play an important role in educating miners on how to avoid life threatening disease, like the black lung disease, and deadly accidents that can commonly occur in mines. According to MSHA, eight miners have already died on job in 2013, following the 19 deaths that occurred in 2012. This does not include the hundreds of miners that die from black lung, according to the Center for Disease Control.
Even without the budget cuts, safety is not assured for mine workers. Mining companies owe the government some $70 million in safety fines that have yet to be collected by MSHA. Critics believe that MSHA is already insufficiently resourced and that the problem would be worsened by sequestration.
If the government continues to sequester the money needed for mining safety, then it possible that tragedies, such as the Upper Big Branch tragedy, where 29 miners perished at a mine in West Virginia, could become a more common occurrence.
Sara Papantonio is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.