Wednesday, December 07, 2016

W.Va. coal county thrilled with Trump, but not with his Commerce choice, who owned deadly mine

Donald Trump and Wilbur Ross
West Virginians concerned about the decline of the coal industry say they're thrilled with the election of Donald Trump, but are casting a wary eye toward some of his personnel choices, including a businessman who owned a Mountain State coal mine where 12 people died in 2006, Marc Fisher reports for The Washington Post.

Wilbur Ross, Trump's choice for commerce secretary, was the primary owner of the Sago Mine, having bought it only two months before the disaster. "I always felt the company was responsible" for the deaths, Vickie Boni told Fisher, who writes: "Boni’s ex-husband, John Boni, was the fire boss, in charge of checking safety at the Sago Mine. Five days before the explosion, he alerted superiors to a leak of dangerous methane gas. A freak lightning strike ignited the methane, investigators later said. Right after the explosion, John Boni retired, after 36 years in the mines. A few months later, he put a bullet in his head."

Buckhannon Mayor David McCauley told Fisher he was taken aback when Trump named Ross: “The whole history of West Virginia is exploitation by outside influences. Now the guy 80 percent of us voted for turns around and nominates one of the least favorite names in Upshur County. If he brings in more billionaires and Mitt Romney is secretary of state, people will say, ‘Well, wait a minute now.’ But if the economy turns around, he’ll get the credit.”

Fisher reports, "Ross told ABC that he knew the mine had been cited with 208 violations, that he accepted responsibility for the disaster, that he had not made a personal contribution toward a fund for the miners’ families, and that his company 'never scrimped on safety expenditures.' Several investigations concluded that the mine’s owner, International Coal Group, was responsible for the safety violations, but that the violations did not cause the explosion."

Helen Winans, who lost a son at Sago, told Fisher that she didn't blame Ross and thinks Trump will be good for coal. McCauley said Trump’s appeal in West Virginia "is stylistic as well as policy-driven," Fisher writes. "It’s about coal, but also about being ornery and oppositional." It’s about coal, but also about being ornery and oppositional. “Trump was just what people here have always been — skeptical of government, almost libertarian,” McCauley said. “He’s a West Virginia pipe dream: He’s going to undo the damage to the coal industry and bring back the jobs, and all of our kids down there in North Carolina are going to come home.”

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