For the past six months or so my dissertation work has kept me from keeping up with any mining or mining safety news. Nevertheless, I do my best to watch the headlines. The latest headline out of West Virginia’s legislative response to the Upper Big Branch Disaster in 2010 has me boggled. Dave Jamieson at Huffington Post has what looks to be a good overview of the situation. The legislation in question is pushing for mandatory drug testing. This is in spite of the fact that drug usage played no role in the disaster. I also want to emphasize that there seems to be no evidence of any drug usage by any of the victims of the disaster.
More than likely there are any number of influences from the industry on this legislation. That said, I have to go even further than Celeste Monforton, the public health expert Jamieson quotes in his article. Monforton describes the drug testing discussion as a distraction. I think it’s worse than that. There’s an implicit cast of blame that occurs with this rhetoric when it’s attached to legislation specifically labeled as a response to Upper Big Branch. It becomes a red herring that suggests the men who died were somehow responsible for the fate that befell them. Whatever the merits of drug testing in the mining industry, the legislative battle over it has implicitly created a fallacious discourse about Upper Big Branch that needs to be cut off before it can get started.