Rescuers are working furiously to save seven mining industry lobbyists who have been trapped under rubble since a structural collapse at the National Mining Association’s headquarters this morning. As distraught family members await news of their loved ones’ fates, the first accounts from survivors are beginning to emerge, painting a harrowing scene inside the trade association in the moments before the cave in.
“We were hard at work drafting legislation to remove job-killing restrictions on mountaintop mining,” said John Maynard, a lobbyist who managed to escape unharmed. “But we pushed too hard. We tried to strip the EPA of all its enforcement power. That’s when the walls started shaking and the conference room filled with smoke. I got out seconds before it all fell in.”
It’s now a race against time as rescue crews on Constitution Avenue try and move debris and reach the trapped lobbyists before their oxygen supply runs out.
News of the collapse has hit the small lobbying community of McLean, Virginia especially hard. Numerous NMA employees live in McLean, where residents have gathered today in a subdivision cul de sac for an impromptu vigil.
“Representing the political interests of multinational mining corporations isn’t just a job to these people, it’s a way of life,” said Genevieve Sims, a McLean resident who knows several NMA employees. “A lot of these guys grew up in the mine lobby—their fathers and grandfathers were lobbyists. It’s in their blood. It’s in all of our blood.”
The pain and anguish caused by this morning’s collapse extends well beyond the Beltway. As word of the NMA disaster spread, mining executives and fellow energy lobbyists across the country have come forth to offer their condolences and prayers.
“Those are our brothers and sisters,” said Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association. “Those brave men and women at the NMA in Washington put their lives on the line every day so industry leaders like me and my board of directors can do our jobs and provide energy to the American people without a bunch of big government safety and environmental regulations getting in our way. I’m praying real hard for them today.”
Others in the industry were more philosophical.
“It’s tragic of course,” said Wesley House, a lobbyist for the Colorado Mining Association. “But ultimately that’s the risk you take when you put on your cuff links and loafers and lobby on behalf of mining companies every day. Every time we walk into an air conditioned suite, we know in the back of our head that we might not make it out.”
Such a mindset is well warranted. Catastrophic accidents like today’s NMA collapse are all too common in the mining industry. Who can forget the Arch Coal boardroom explosion that killed four executives in 2012 or the cave in at Peabody Energy’s staff retreat in 2010 that claimed six lives, including the CFO’s? In addition to periodic collapses and explosions, mining lobbyists face numerous other occupational health hazards, including a heightened risk of lung disease from excess cigar smoke and the threat of back and wrist injuries from frequent golf outings.
At press time, the fate of the seven trapped NMA lobbyists is still unknown. Hal Quinn, the president and CEO of the NMA, has released a statement that reads:
“This is a heartbreaking day for everyone in the mining industry. We are doing absolutely everything in our power to locate and rescue the seven individuals who are trapped beneath the rubble and we ask for your thoughts and prayers at this difficult time. Whatever happens today, the National Mining Association will rebuild and continue to provide a clear and resolute voice on behalf of the American mining industry.”
Stuck in DC will continue to update this story as it develops.