Obama and mine safety: Where is the transparency?

April 19, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

Obama Mine Safety

Late Friday afternoon, the Obama Labor Department announced its plans to have MSHA do its traditional “internal review” of agency actions prior to the April 5 explosion that killed 29 workers at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine here in West Virginia.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, though, was touting the fact that she asked the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to put together a team to review MSHA’s “internal review”:

To ensure accountability, I’ve asked for an outside team to review the policy, process and substance of MSHA’s internal review. This independent evaluation will help ensure that we’re doing everything we can to protect the health and safety of America’s miners.

I’m not sure that having NIOSH — an agency whose mining experts have close ties to MSHA — do this is really going to appease critics who have long called for some real independent review of how well MSHA has enforced the law to prevent these kinds of horrible disasters.  As I’ve reported before, MSHA’s record in using all of the tools available to it to prevent such needless deaths has not been especially good.

The other issue here — and let’s hope the national and political media pick up on it — is that the Obama administration has yet to announce what, if anything, it is doing to ensure the transparency of its investigation into the Upper Big Branch deaths.

Will interviews be open to the public and to the miners’ families? If not, will transcripts at least be promptly prepared and made public on the Internet? Will coal company lawyers be allowed to attend, while the public and the families are not?

Will MSHA hold its own formal public hearing, a move that gives it far more power to make Massey officials turn over documents and answer questions?

We don’t know.

Last week, President Obama made some of the strongest statements anyone I’ve talked to remembers hearing from a U.S. President regarding mine safety. But we’re still waiting to see if the President can force some transparency on this MSHA investigation, a process agency officials have historically kept carefully behind closed doors.

We know that Gov. Joe Manchin’s special investigator, Davitt McAteer, has said he will hold a public hearing similar to the one he organized after the Sago Mine Disaster four years ago … but again — what about opening up the interviews, making transcripts available and periodically briefing the media on what is being discovered along the way?

Stay tuned …

3 Responses to “Obama and mine safety: Where is the transparency?”

  1. rhmooney3 says:

    MSHA Open Government Portal

    January 22, 2010
    My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government. (Continued)


  2. Kenneth Lehman says:

    I would hope that Hannity and O’Reilly would back the families that bring
    lawsuits against Massey. Massey believes only in the almighty dollar. I know you are in business to make money and that is what you should be. It shouldn’t be at all costs. Human life should account for something.

    I am intelligent enough to think for myself. Which is more than the people following the liberal agenda of the likes of obama, rahall, and rockefeller.

    You have Nickie Joe Rahall showing up at the disaster for one reason. He is up for re-election. He sold the people of the 3rd district, West Virginia and the United States out. He was a part of the holdouts with Stupak on Obama care. I am sure he got his 30 pieces of silver for selling out. He is against Israel just like Obama. Now Nickie Joe has to go. He makes me sick as do all the liberal socialist democrats that push their agenda down our throats. I am a democrat but if this is all that they can offer then they will never get my vote. The conservatives will sure get my vote.

    Thank God for the Tea Party movement!!

  3. Anne Lieberman says:

    to Kenneth Lehman ~ I don’t believe that Massey “cares only about the almight dollar,” but even if it were true, then safety would STILL be their top concern… because a safe mine is a productive mine, and accidents of any kind -much less a tragedy of this magnitude- are bad for business. I’m sure everyone at Massey, no matter what their position, is absolutely devastated by what happened. Can we not wait for an investigation to be held before jumping to judgements? Obama coming out to make a pronouncement that this explosion was due to a “failure” on the part of management, is just EXACTLY like what he did with the Boston Police. He didn’t know the first thing about it, but somehow he knew that the Boston Police had “acted stupidly.” This time, it’ll take more than a “beer summit” to make what he said go away, and I doubt that Don Blankenship would care to sit down with him and have a beer, anyway. But that’s another story.

    As for the rest of what you said, I completely agree:)

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