Our too-quick-to-react society

By |  July 27, 2012

The Penn State scandal was once again a topic of discussion this week, with the Joe Paterno statue removed from outside the football stadium and the NCAA imposing a $60 million fine on the university, among other measures, for its role covering up Jerry Sandusky’s crimes.

Whether or not you believe Paterno’s statue should have remained and whether or not you believe the NCAA’s punishment was appropriate are discussions to dive into on another forum. What the aggregates industry and others, including Congress, can take away from those decisions is how they were made.

NSSGA reported earlier this week that Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is developing new mine safety legislation in response to the report on what went wrong to cause the 2010 Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster in West Virginia. Like the Penn State scandal, the end result of the Upper Big Branch explosion that killed 29 people is tragic – in a very different way, of course – yet nevertheless tragic.

As with all tragedies of this magnitude, our hearts always break for the victims, their families and those whose lives are impacted by such events. How people respond to ensure such events never again happen, however, differs from case to case.

The Penn State scandal, for example, has had more than one question in need of a response. Should Paterno be fired? Should his statue remain in place? Should the NCAA give Penn State football the death penalty, meaning the program would cease to exist for at least one year?

The NCAA, in my estimation, took the proper course of action in not issuing the death penalty. And Congress could learn from the NCAA, in this case, that others should not be severely punished for the repeated actions or inactions of one person, group or entity.

The NCAA could have given Penn State football the death penalty. Instead, it let the program live, allowing the players currently on the team who had nothing to do with the scandal to continue playing for the university. While an argument can be made that the NCAA is punishing Penn State fans too severely with the loss of athletic scholarships and a four-year postseason ban, the NCAA could have gone steps further had it killed the program this season and given one of the country’s most passionate fan bases nothing to cheer for this fall.

Congress’ decision-making process in reacting to the Upper Big Branch disaster should be the same. While the 29 deaths at Upper Big Branch are tragic, the development of any mine safety measures as a result of one major incident and one producer who had multiple safety failures affects producers who value safety and had nothing to do with the explosion. Yes, there are other producers who continuously commit safety violations, but punishing all for the actions of a few is far from fair.

As Joe Main, MSHA’s assistant secretary of labor, constantly reminds producers, mine safety and health is the number one priority of his administration. But there’s a right way to pursue safety and health, and there’s a political way to pursue it, which, in this case, seems to be positioning one producer as a potential source for new safety guidelines for all.

NSSGA says the new mine safety bill Harkin is developing is unlikely to be considered by the 112th Congress. But will the next Congress, as NSSGA puts it, pursue legislation that indicates “an ongoing interest to push punitive mine safety legislation under the guise of improving mine worker safety?” We’ll find out soon enough.

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