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Did the Bush administration kill the 12 miners in West Virginia?

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Knight Ridder:

Since the Bush administration took office in 2001, it has been more lenient than its predecessors toward mining companies facing serious safety violations, issuing fewer and smaller major fines and collecting less than half of the money that violators owed, a Knight Ridder investigation has found.

At one point last year, the Mine Safety and Health Administration fined a coal company $440 for a "significant and substantial" violation that ended in the death of a Kentucky man. The firm, International Coal Group Inc., is the same company that owns the Sago mine in West Virginia, where 12 workers died last week.

The $440 fine remains unpaid.

Relaxed mine-safety enforcement is widespread, according to a Knight Ridder analysis of federal records and interviews with former and current federal safety officials, while deaths and injuries from mining accidents have hovered near record-low levels in the last few years. Knight Ridder is the parent company of The Inquirer.

The analysis shows:

The number of major fines over $10,000 has dropped by nearly 10 percent since 2001. The dollar amount of those penalties, when adjusted for inflation, has plummeted 43 percent to a median of $27,584.

Fewer than half of the fines levied between 2001 and 2003 - about $3 million - have been paid.

The budget and staff for the enforcement office also have declined, forcing the agency to make do with about 100 fewer coal-mine-enforcement personnel, a cut of about 9 percent.

In serious criminal cases, the number of guilty pleas and convictions have fallen 54.8 percent since 2001. In the first four years of the Bush administration, the federal government averaged 3.5 criminal convictions a year; in the four years before that, the average was 7.75 per year.
More on Bush's mining fiasco from Hughes for America.

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