Oppegard said he is disappointed in the failure of politicians to enact more protections for miners in the wake of the disaster, as they did following catastrophic mining accidents in 1968 and 1976. The Mine Safety and Health Administration has updated some regulations to place greater emphasis on more egregious rule violations, but Oppegard says legislation is still needed to give mine inspectors subpoena power, for example.
“All mining safety legislation is written in the blood of miners,” Oppegard said. “When you have a major accident like Upper Big Branch, that’s the time when you think something should be done. Those miners died in vain.”

Lydia DePillis is a reporter focusing on labor, business, and housing. She previously worked at The New Republic and the Washington City Paper. She's from Seattle.