“There’s no other miner like him in the United States,” says Oppegard, who’s been representing Appalachian miners against coal companies for more than 20 years. “He’s done things that no one else has done.”
Over the course of his journeyman’s career, Howard has worked in more than forty mines, most of them south of Harlan and Letcher counties, and he and Oppegard have filed around 10 MSHA complaints with the help of Oppegard’s colleagues, Stephen Sanders and Wes Addington of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, a public-interest law group in Whitesburg. Howard’s career has coincided with the decline of unions in mining and other American industries, so he generally has no one but his lawyers behind him when he takes on his employer.
“Scott is extremely rare,” says Celeste Monforton, a former MSHA official who’s investigated the mining disasters at Sago and Upper Big Branch. “It takes a certain level of social consciousness to recognize the power struggle between a worker and an employer.”