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How the Bush administration reversed decades of progress on mine safety

On the afternoon of September 23, 2001, thirty-two miners were repairing drilling machines and hoisting tunnel supports into place in the No. 5 mine of Jim Walter Resources Inc., in Brookwood, Alabama. The No. 5 is North America’s deepest coal mine, tracking the six-foot-high Blue Creek seam almost half a mile beneath the rolling hills just east of Tuscaloosa. At about 5:20 p.m., a chunk of ceiling dropped onto a battery charger deep in the mine’s tunnels. The impact set off a spark, which ignited a pocket of methane gas. The small explosion injured four miners, including Gaston Adams Jr., who was hurt so badly that he could not walk. When coworkers rushed to his aid, a second, much larger blast ripped through the mine, killing Adams and twelve of his would-be rescuers. It was the nation’s deadliest coal mine accident in seventeen years. The September 23 tragedy came less than two weeks after the terrorist attacks in New York City and at the Pentagon. At a memorial service for the dead miners, Elaine Chao,

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