Obama Eulogizes West Virginia Miners at Memorial Service

April 26, 2010
At an April 25 memorial service in Beckley, W.Va., President Barack Obama honored the 29 miners who lost their lives in the April 5 Upper Big Branch Mine explosion and stressed that the nation’s miners must be ensured safe working conditions.

“Even as we mourn 29 lives lost, we also remember 29 lives lived,” Obama said. “Up at 4:30 a.m., 5:00 in the morning at the latest, they began their day, as they worked, in darkness. In coveralls and hard-toe boots, a hardhat over their heads, they would sit quietly for their hour-long journey, five miles into a mountain, the only light the lamp on their caps, or the glow from the mantrip they rode in.”

The fallen miners’ surviving family members, friends and community members came together for the Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial Service, which in addition to the president’s eulogy included remarks from Vice President Joe Biden and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III.

“How can a nation that relies on its miners not do everything in its power to protect them? How can we let anyone in this country put their lives at risk by simply showing up to work, by simply pursuing the American Dream?” Obama asked.

“Our task, here on Earth, is to save lives from being lost in another such tragedy; to do what must do, individually and collectively, to assure safe conditions underground to treat our miners like they treat each other – like a family,” Obama added.

Massey CEO Expresses “Sincere Effort” to Find Explosion Cause

In an April 26 press conference, executives from Massey Energy Co., owner of the Upper Big Branch coal mine, offered condolences to the families of the 29 miners and expressed intent to discover why the explosion occurred and to take corrective action.

“We are fully dedicated to figuring out what happened if humanly possible to do so. We owe to the families, and to the industry and to the public our best and sincerest efforts to find the cause of the explosion,” said Massey CEO Don Blankenship. “It is critical that we find out the facts so that all Massey and industry coal miners can work without fear of another explosion. Once the facts are known, we will enact corrective processes at Massey immediately and encourage regulation and laws focused on eliminating the chance of a reoccurrence.”

Massey also released information regarding how the victims’ families are being cared for following the tragedy. According to the April 26 letter to stakeholders, each miner’s spouse (beneficiary) will collect life insurance benefits that are five times the miner’s annual pay; the company will pay the surviving spouse the monthly difference between the miner’s base standard pay and the monthly worker’s compensation benefit until the spouse remarries or dies; a surviving spouse will be entitled to 20 years of health benefits, unless she remarries; dependent children also will continue to receive health benefits until at least age 19 and, in some cases, until age 24; and Massey Energy will provide dependent children with a 4-year scholarship to an accredited public college, university or vocational school located in West Virginia.

“Massey Energy is providing these benefits without requiring any family to settle any legal issues – we’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do,” the letter stated.

In the weeks since the fatal explosion, Massey has come under fire for a host of safety violations at the Upper Big Branch Mine and other mining operations and has been accused of putting productivity ahead of safety.

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