As West Virginia mourned the 29 coal miners killed in an explosion on April 5 at the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston said the safety of the state’s miners must be a priority. “We offer this Mass for the 29 miners who lost their lives this past week,” Bishop Bransfield said at the beginning of the Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling on April 11. “We pray today for them and for their families.”
Bishop Bransfield added that it was his hope that the protection miners need will be provided to them in the future. “Our country should realize that West Virginia pays too high a price when we turn on our electricity,” the bishop said in his homily. “As one of the greatest suppliers of electricity in our country, we must reflect on what producing this energy truly costs.”
Bishop Bransfield noted that it has been only four years since the Sago mine disaster in Upshur County claimed the lives of 13 miners. Now, he said, the state has suffered yet another mine disaster with great loss of life. “We must know the difference between what happens by accident and what can be prevented by good safeguards and adequate technologies,” Bishop Bransfield said. “In the 21st century, there should be a greater span between accidents than just four years.
“It is impossible not to ask what can be done to protect the lives of miners,” Bishop Bransfield said. “Can those entrusted with the protection of miners be trusted to fulfill the jobs and enforce the laws? Is our technology in the U.S. mines in 2010 equal to the technology that is easily available in other industries?
“If West Virginia can supply our country with so much energy, can we expect the protection of the life of our miners to take the same priority as the protection of the ecology of West Virginia?” he asked.
The U.S. Mine and Safety Administration was investigating whether the company that owns the mine, Massey Energy, had done all it could to safeguard the miners. The company had ramped up production at the mine as demand rose for the type of coal found there, but Massey officials said increased production had not led to shortcuts in safety for its workers.
In the wake of so great a loss, Bishop Bransfield said, alluding to the Gospel of the Second Sunday of Easter, some people are filled with fear, some struggle with doubts, some may be angry or hurt—the same emotions felt by the apostles in the upper room. “The presence of the risen Christ made a difference in the lives of all in that upper room,” Bishop Bransfield said. “We need our faith in the resurrected Christ as we pray for these 29 miners and their families. We also need to keep the safety of our miners as a priority for government.”
Many issues will be on the agenda and on the minds of government leaders this summer, Bishop Bransfield said, including filling a seat on the Supreme Court. “We hope the safety of our miners in West Virginia,” he said, “will not fall to the back page.”
On April 12 President Obama issued a proclamation ordering that the U.S. flag be flown at half-staff at all federal buildings and properties and at military facilities and naval stations in West Virginia until sunset of April 18. He called it “a mark of respect for the memory of those who perished in the mine explosion.”