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UMWA President Cecil Roberts Blasts Firing of Kentucky Department of Mine Safety and Licensing General Counsel Oppegard

May 27, 2005

Governor Fletcher "bowing to pressure from coal operators," Roberts says

United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts said today that, "the firing of Tony Oppegard from his position as General Counsel for the Kentucky Department of Mine Safety and Licensing is a tremendous blow to the safety of miners throughout Kentucky.

"Tony's relentless pursuit of coal operators who flout the law and ignore even basic safety procedures meant that Kentucky coal miners could, for a time, go to work with a reasonable expectation of coming home again safely," Roberts said. "With this irresponsible action, Governor Fletcher has bowed to pressure from the coal operators who poured money into his campaign, and put Kentucky coal miners on notice that they do not have a friend in Frankfort any longer.

"Tony's expertise in mine safety issues is unmatched," Roberts said. "He has brought several actions against renegade coal operators that have resulted in safer mines throughout Kentucky. Several more serious cases are pending," Roberts continued. "Now we must ask: what will happen to those cases? Will they be swept under the rug now that the coal operators are back in charge of the state's main coal mining safety enforcement arm?

"Miners at UMWA mines will continue to have the safety and health protections of their UMWA contract," Roberts said, "and we will continue to be vigilant about enforcement of those protections. But God help those miners at non-union mines in Kentucky, because now no one else will."

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