What happened to the House panel’s investigation of Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster?

November 5, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

Back in May, among the flurry of responses to the deaths of 29 coal miners in the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, the U.S. House of Representatives granted its Committee on Education and Labor the authority to subpoena witnesses for private depositions for a broad investigation of mine safety issues.

The move gave Committee Chairman George Miller (above) and his staff the go ahead for a major review “into underground mine operator compliance” with the federal mine safety law “and into other related matters.”

Now that the Republicans have taken back the House, I wondered what would become of this investigation — what would happen to any records obtained or the transcripts of any depositions taken … I wondered if Miller’s capable and respected staff would have time to publish any sort of report on their findings.

Well, a committee spokesman told me he didn’t have any information on this.

Keep in mind that Miller has already pushed through his committee a major piece of mine safety legislation and he played a central role in requesting that detailed Inspector General’s report that blasted MSHA’s enforcement — or lack thereof — of the “pattern of violations” provisions of the mine safety act.

And not so long ago, Miller’s committee produced a remarkable report on the Crandall Canyon Mine Disaster and recommended criminal prosecution of those responsible for the deaths at that Murray Energy mine in Utah.

So, it seems like the public would have a great interest in learning what the committee has uncovered about Upper Big Branch or about other mine safety issues … perhaps we’ll learn a little bit later this year, when committee staff is required to provide the House Rules Committee with a report on their activities. But it’s hard to say. The House resolution requires only that the report include the number of depositions taken and the names of those interviewed — but only if the committee has previously made those names public.

So stay tuned …

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