An adverse ruling by a federal administrative law judge certainly isn’t stopping Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship from taking shots at the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration’s investigation of the deaths of 29 of Blankenship’s workers at the Upper Big Branch Mine here in West Virginia.
Blankenship went after MSHA again last evening at an industry meeting down in Bluefield, comparing what he said is an agency cover-up to the Watergate scandal, saying:
Today what you have is MSHAgate. You’ve got a situation where they won’t tell the truth about what they know. We’re not making a genuine effort at the government level to find out what happened.
Interestingly, though, this all comes out just as federal and state regulators looking into the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster have called off more witness interviews as Massey management officials all line up to refuse to appear and offer information to government investigators.
Among those who were scheduled to appear this week was Elizabeth Chamberlin, Massey’s corporate vice president for safety. Other interviews scheduled with mine managers for last Friday and for the rest of this week have also been called off.
At least two Massey managers have sent letters to the West Virginia Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training in which they refuse to appear to interviews in response to state subpoenas. So far, Gov. Joe Manchin’s administration has refused to release copies of those letters so the public can understand whatever complaints Massey managers have about the interview process.
Part of the problem here, though, is that MSHA itself does not have legal power to subpoena witnesses in accident investigations, unless it calls a public hearing. And, of course, the Obama administration and MSHA chief Joe Main — a former advocate of public accident investigations — have decided to conduct a closed-door investigation.
West Virginia state mine safety regulators have subpoena power for both public and private investigation interviews, but Massey officials have apparently objected to MSHA taking part in interviews held pursuant to state subpoenas.
Seems like there might be an easy solution to this problem for MSHA: Federal officials could immediately call for a public hearing, and subpoena Massey mine managers to testify out in the open about what happened at Upper Big Branch. And since Massey Energy has supported the notion of a public investigation, surely its mine managers would drop any objections to appearing and testifying at such a hearing …