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Senator Jay Rockefeller on the Mine Accident

Senator Jay Rockefeller on the Mine Accident

By The Situation Room - April 6, 2010

BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story, that mine disaster in West Virginia.

Joining us now, the longtime West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, who's on the scene for us.

Senator Rockefeller, first of all, our deepest condolences to the families, the loved ones, all of the folks in West Virginia who are suffering as a result of this explosion.

Realistically, what are the chances of finding those four missing miners?

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: One of the things you learn very quickly in West Virginia is you never give up hope. Hope is a very precious commodity. It's not available to a lot of people.

And so, if there's any chance at all, you say, it will -- we hope it will work out. We hope there will be a miracle.

BLITZER: And walk us through what they're trying to do now. They're trying to drill in to get some of the poisonous gases out so they can go inside. Is that's what they're trying to do?

ROCKEFELLER: Yes, that's exactly what they're trying to do. It's exactly what they should be doing.

That mine is so full of methane gas and all kinds of toxins that, if somebody went in there now, they would take one breath and they would die. So, it's completely sealed off from anybody going in. And now they have drilled down 1,000 to 1,500 feet. They have to drill down in a hole, then put a pipe down, probably go through a couple of coal mine seams on the way down, and hope it then goes into the chamber where they think the four unaccounted-for miners might still be.

And the hope, obviously, is that one of them will be alive.

BLITZER: Was this mine safe, based on its track record, because apparently there were a lot of violations of the codes that were documented in recent years?

ROCKEFELLER: There were a lot of violations. And mining is not a safe business, but it can be made safer, you know, by people who want to make it safer.

And that either comes down to the company trying to do the right thing or it comes down to the federal government toughening up our laws. In this case, there's a very odd situation where, if you're fined -- and this company's been fined 548 times or something in the last month or so -- or the last couple months -- if you're fined, what you can do is refuse to pay the fine and appeal the violation.

As long as you're appealing the violation and it's in court, then you don't have to either pay the fine or you don't have to stop what you're doing. Just go ahead and do what you're doing. That's a terrible, terrible law. That's not -- that's not what we should be doing in America.

BLITZER: Is that a state law or is that a federal law?

ROCKEFELLER: No, that's a federal law. That's a federal law, and it needs to be changed.

BLITZER: You say it's a terrible law. Why hasn't it been changed?

ROCKEFELLER: Because it took -- look, we did the last federal bill four years ago -- three years ago. And it had been the first one in 30 years. It made some improvements. It turns out it didn't make enough improvements.

Sometimes -- it's horrible to say this, but sometimes it takes a mine disaster to galvanize the Congress, most of which knows nothing about coal and produces no coal whatsoever. So, they're kind of sort of indolent on the subject.

But there are clear violations of principles of fairness here. And miners are getting hurt and killed because of it. And companies -- not naming any names -- are getting away with what they should not be getting away with, so it's my job to go in and try to change the law.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Are you going to take the leadership now, Senator Rockefeller, and get this law changed, working with the president and the Congress?

ROCKEFELLER: I'm going to try, Wolf. I'm going to try. I'm going to try.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Why would it be so hard to do that?

ROCKEFELLER: Well, one is I'm not on the committee that writes the law.

And you know the way Congress is, but I'm just going to insert myself in this process. And Nick Joe Rahall is very, very strong on this on the House side of things. So, we will just -- we will just work at it.

And, you know, in West Virginia, you're always fighting uphill. You're always climbing a mountain uphill. You never give up. You never quit. You never say, I can't do it. You say, I'm going to do it. So, that's my attitude.

BLITZER: Because we thought -- and maybe it was naive -- that after the Sago Mine disaster, what, it was about four years ago, there were commissions and studies, and everything was going to be fixed up. But, clearly, you're telling us now, you know what, we were naive, and there's still many, many problems out there.

ROCKEFELLER: A little bit I'm saying that, yes. And I read over that whole law, which I was a part of, of writing. And there were so many study commissions and, you know, scientific advisory groups to be formed that, when you really got down to it, you really weren't sure what -- as I was reading it, what have we really done?

We have made some things better. We have made it possible to have oxygen in chambers. We have made it possible for miners to hold on to a rope, a steel rope, if they couldn't see, and just follow that rope, and it would take them right to the shaft that would get them out of the mine.

There were a number of things that we did do, but, clearly, after this horror, there were some things that we did not do. And, unfortunately, that's the way making law sometimes has to work.

BLITZER: The last time, there were a lot of complaints...

ROCKEFELLER: I'm not complacent about this.

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of complaints the last time, four years ago, that the families weren't given real-time information, they weren't kept up to speed on what's going on.

We're hearing some complaints this time as well that they don't know about their loved ones, they haven't been told the information. Are you hearing that as well, Senator?

ROCKEFELLER: There was more of that yesterday than there is today.

The governor and the company every two hours are coming in and briefing the people who are grieving and hoping and praying. And they're going to do it every two hours. We advise people -- they have been up for 36 hours, whatever -- go back to sleep. Get some sleep.

I doubt they can do that, so some of them will try. Others will just stay right where they are, feeling that's the way they can show their loyalty and their love for people who may be underground, dead or alive.

BLITZER: We're praying for those four men.

ROCKEFELLER: It's...

(CROSSTALK)

ROCKEFELLER: ... country.

BLITZER: We're praying for those four men, together with you, and not only everyone in West Virginia, but all over the country, indeed, all over the world. Senator Rockefeller, our deepest condolences once again. Good luck. Clearly, lots of work needs to be done, but the immediate issue right now is making sure, if there's any hope at all, you find those four coal miners and you bring them out alive.

ROCKEFELLER: You have got it spot on.

BLITZER: Senator Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, thank you.

 

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