Let’s say you could earn an extra $1,000 a week by driving 10 miles over the speed limit at times, while traveling from one end of town to the other. And while you’re at it, assume that the fine for speeding, when you get caught, which most of the time you don’t, is one cent. And there’s no limit on the number of tickets you can get; even if you get pulled over 272 times you just pay your penny and move on down the road.
How much incentive would you have to follow the rules of the road?
Well, as reported in today’s New York Times, under the Bush administration that’s pretty much the way it works in the mining industry.
CRAIGSVILLE, W.Va. — In its drive to foster a more cooperative relationship with mining companies, the Bush administration has decreased major fines for safety violations since 2001, and in nearly half the cases, it has not collected the fines, according to a data analysis by The New York Times.
* * *
Before the January disaster at the Sago Mine near here, where 12 miners died, the operator had been cited 273 times since 2004. None of the fines exceeded $460, roughly one-thousandth of 1 percent of the $110 million net profit reported last year by the current owner of the mine, the International Coal Group.
[At a House oversight hearing on Wednesday, agency officials repeatedly cited the frequency of fines against Sago in the year before the accident as proof of aggressive enforcement. Exasperated, Representative Lynn Woolsey, Democrat of California, replied that maybe those fines had little effect because many were for $60. That point set off applause from audience members.]
“Most fines are so small that they are seen not as deterrents but as the cost of doing business,” said Wes Addington, a lawyer with the Appalachian Citizens Law Center in Prestonsburg, Ky., which handles mine safety cases. Using federal records, Mr. Addington released a study in January indicating that since 1995 nearly a third of the active underground mines in Kentucky had failed to pay their fines.
It’s a license to kill, pure and simple. And a damn cheap one at that.
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