Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Utah: worse fines for unsafe driving than for owning an unsafe coal mine

The big story in the national news right now deals with the horrific collapse of a coal mine in central Utah. A group of six miners is trapped nearly half a mile below the surface, three miles into the mine, following a cave in. Apparently this particular mining company practices something called "retreat mining" wherein the ceiling of the area being mined is held up with coal columns, and then when the area is completely mined the company pulls out the pillars and collects the remaining coal before the ceiling collapses. Ok, that sounds insane. But, if we read into the story, we see the following:

The mine -- owned by Genwal Resources Inc. -- reported a cave-in to the Emery County Sheriff's Department about an hour after the seismograph reading was noted.

Inspectors have cited Genwal for 30 violations in 2007, MSHA records show. Recommended fines in the 10 cases where penalties have been leveled so far range from $60 to $524.
Get that? A mining company, which is responsible for the lives of its employees, has been hit with 30 different violations so far this year, and has had a maximum fine of $524. In many instances, the fine was lower than that. In the majority of cases (20 of the 30 total), in fact, no fine at all was levied.

However, this sort of coddling of industry is no surprise to anyone who has followed the Bush Administration's absurd policies over the past six years. By way of comparison, a first offense DUI in Utah has a minimum fine of $700. In Utah, if you are caught driving for the second time without proof of insurance, you have a mandatory minimum fine of $1,000. In Utah, the bail for joyriding is $1,850 plus a mandatory court appearance. The list goes on and on: Driving 20mph over the speed limit in a school zone ($708.50), acting as a car dealer without a license ($1,850), speed contest or exhibition of speed ($550). The point, ultimately, is that the state of Utah imposes harsher fines on people engaged in a variety of motor vehicle code violations than the federal government imposes on unsafe coal mines in the state of Utah. Completely, ridiculously, absurd.