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After second Mexican mining disaster, critics call for stronger regulation

August 6, 2012 |  1:25 pm


MEXICO CITY -- In the wake of another fatal coal mining disaster in the Mexican state of Coahuila, critics are ramping up their call for stronger regulation of an industry that the local bishop claims is sending workers into “death trap” conditions.

Six men were killed Friday morning when 100 tons of rock and coal collapsed, trapping them in a mine near the town of Muzquiz. In late July, an explosion at another nearby mine killed seven workers. The national miners’ union claims that 200 miners have died in Coahuila since 2006.

The mine’s owner, Altos Hornos de Mexico, has claimed that the modern safety features at the site allowed them to evacuate 285 miners after the collapse.

“But the result is persistently the same,” the union said in a statement. “The mine workers are the evident victims of the lack of foresight, lack of sensitivity and criminal irresponsibility of the mining companies, big or small, that don’t establish adequate security measures for the protection of their workers.”

Raul Vera, the Roman Catholic bishop of Saltillo, said in a radio interview that many miners were “working in 19th century conditions.”

“The mines are a death trap,” he said.

Vera and other church leaders have accused the government of being reluctant to impose tougher regulations on the industry for fear of upsetting foreign mining companies operating in the state.

The governor of Coahuila, Ruben Moreira, and others have called on the federal government to reduce the taxes on the methane gas that is often found in coal mines -- and is often a source of the explosions that make the work there so dangerous. Moreira and others hope that with lower taxes, companies will have greater incentive to safely capture the gas and sell it, instead of letting it escape, as it often does now, into the atmosphere.

The newspaper Vanguardia, in Saltillo, the state capital, reported Monday that a measure to reduce the taxes on coalbed methane gas was introduced in the Mexican Chamber of Deputies in October, but has not been acted upon.

“What is needed are not speeches delivered a thousand times, or promises that have proven to be in vain again and again,” read an editorial published in the paper Monday. “What is required are real actions for creating a different reality -- a reality in which human life is worth more than the earnings generated by coal.”

-- Richard Fausset


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Photo: A handout picture provided by La Voz de Sabinas shows rescuers at an earlier collapse July 25 at the Deborquez mine in Muzquiz, Coahuila state. Seven miners were killed. Mauricio Garcia / European Pressphoto Agency