It’s possible that United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts and Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship will suck all the oxygen out of the room later today, when they appear before a Senate Appropriations Committee panel to testify about the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.
But it should also be interesting to see Sen. Robert C. Byrd grill Blankenship and the other witnesses. I’m told Sen. Byrd will attend for part of both of the hearing’s panels (one made up of government witnesses such as MSHA chief Joe Main, and the other made up of Roberts and Blankenship). Sen. Byrd “is expected to ask tough and probing questions of all the witnesses,” a spokesman told me this morning.
Much of the focus is likely to be on Roberts vs. Blankenship … but remember, the topic of the hearing is: Investing in Mine Safety: Preventing Another Disaster.
With that in mind, here’s hoping that lawmakers ask a few of these kinds of questions:
— Assistant Secretary Main, if the pattern of violations system isn’t working as a strong enough deterrent to repeated violations of mine safety and health standards, why isn’t your agency simply rewriting its internal criteria and scoring model, rather than going through the much longer process of a new rulemaking on POV?
— Assistant Secretary Main, why hasn’t your agency moved more quickly — perhaps through an Emergency Temporary Standard — to updated the hopelessly outdated rockdusting rules for underground coal mines?
— Assistant Secretary Main, when did your agency become aware of NIOSH studies which clearly show the need to mandate permissible electrical equipment only in intake airways of underground coal mines? And why haven’t you yet moved to make this necessary change?
— Dr. John Howard, director of NIOSH, when and how did your agency make MSHA aware of its research on the need to tighten rockdusting standards and mandate permissible electrical equipment only in intake airways? Why haven’t you done more to make public these research and to let lawmakers and the public know about inaction by MSHA on these important issues?
— Assistant Secretary Main and Dr. Howard, what are your respective agencies doing to get potentially defective emergency breathing devices out of the nation’s coal mines and to develop a newer, better such device for the future?
Those are just a few that come to mind … tune in at 2 p.m. to watch the Webcast on the committee Web site.