Coal Tattoo

Mine Explosion Congress

Several news organizations earlier today hand-delivered a letter to MSHA chief Joe Main, calling on him to open his agency’s investigation of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster to the press and the public.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press drafted the letter, which sought a public hearing or — in the alternative — that MSHA immediate provide transcripts of investigative interviews to the public and the press.

Among the news outlets and organizations signing the letter were The Charleston Gazette, the Associated Press and the National Newspaper Association.  Not listed in the original letter, but the driving force for years in pushing for MSHA to open up the investigation of this and many other investigations, is Ellen Smith of Mine Safety and Health News.

The letter is available online here, and it said in part:

The public interest in what happened at the Upper Big Branch Mine is monumental. The presence of government investigators cannot substitute for the role of the news media in examining MSHA’s enforcement of the law at the mine, and whether the accident is properly investigated.

… Barring the public from investigative proceedings and withholding the recordings/transcripts until MSHA’s final report is complete poses a grave risk to miner safety and the public’s right to know what happened in West Virginia.

Interestingly, Joe Main — as far as I’m aware — has so far not even responded to repeated requests from Upper Big Branch widows that his agency conduct its investigation in the public. And, Gov. Joe Manchin’s administration has been adament that it will conduct a closed-door investigation — except that Massey lawyers are going to be allowed in the room.

During today’s Senate committee hearing, United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts also called on MSHA to conduct a more transparent public investigation — but as far as I can tell from Joe Main’s prepared testimony he has no intention of doing so.

While Main said this:

During our investigation, we will honor our commitment to transparency and openness …

He followed that up with this:

… And we will make the results of our investigation fully public at its conclusion.