As the death toll rose to 29 in West Virginia’s coal mining disaster, the worst in decades, as the community buried its dead, evidence also mounted that much of this human tragedy could have been avoided in this always dangerous profession. The drive for corporate profits at this mining company revealed practices throughout the industry that led to these deaths and now has spurred in-depth investigations.

Cynicism circles the new attention. Many union members and West Virginia families fear the result will be a flurry of emotional concern followed by the same entrenched preference for profits over people’s survival, because that is what happened after past disasters.

The Obama administration will be under the gun to prove a difference this time.

It has already brought managerial improvements and new investigative attention to the mining indstry but even Obama’s secretary of labor, Hilda Solis, lamented in interviews that the federal laws and fines are not tough enough and the nation still needed to develop better rules and work on long delayed congressional action to rein in the lingering behavior of private companies.

The private push for profits combined with strong lobbying by the mining industry and weaknesses in federal law have short-circuited mining improvements. Until existing technology is employed for worker safety and takes precedence over the bottom line, the deaths and injuries will continue and perhaps increase, experts say.

The bulk of evidence makes that judgement unavoidable, not political.

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