Coal Tattoo

More stories on the Upper Big Branch anniversary

In this March 8, 2011 photo, Marques Canterbury holds an art piece he plans to donate to a memorial for the Upper Big Branch Coal Miners in Whitesville, W.Va. Twenty-nine men died deep inside Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine on April 5, 2010 near Montcoal. It was the deadliest U.S. coal mining accident since 1970, and remains the target of civil and criminal investigations. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

There are more stories out today and over the weekend marking tomorrow’s one-year anniversary of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on how grand jury indictments against two people have come out even before the issuance of final agency investigative reports on the disaster, which have yet to be completed or made public:

A series of overlapping investigations is underway, but a full accounting is months away. First, there is the official probe led by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. Massey is conducting its own review, as is an independent group led by former MSHA chief J. Davitt McAteer. Congress has also held hearings looking into the explosion.

As Mr. McAteer’s group has done its work in secret and Mr. Goodwin only recently started issuing indictments, most of the revelations have come in competing forums by the agency and Massey. In the early going, Massey would publish pieces of evidence that were favorable to the company, and the agency would respond. Once MSHA started giving updates on the investigation to families, followed by a briefing for the news media, Massey would issue a rebuttal shortly thereafter.

…  It is also unclear how far up the Massey ladder Mr. Goodwin will go with charges. CEO Don Blankenship, who stepped down in December before the company was sold to Alpha Natural Resources, has declined to testify about the blast.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review also reported on how investigations are yet to be completed and no major changes in mine safety regulations or laws have resulted from the disaster:

For many family members of the miners who died in the explosion at Massey Energy Co.’s Montcoal mine, little changed in the past year. They cry at the mention of their loved ones, and they wait for answers.

And unlike in the months after other such disasters, little changed industry-wide since the deadliest U.S. coal mine disaster in 40 years, according to analysts, scholars and industry insiders. There are no new laws to protect miners’ safety, no widespread changes in how owners run mines. Investigators haven’t produced a final report determining what caused the disaster and whether anyone is to blame.

In this undated photo provided by the Quarles family, Gary Wayne Quarles, left, Grover Skeens, center, and Joel Price, pose in a mine. The three men were found dead lying near each other deep inside Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine on April 5, 2010 near Montcoal. It was the deadliest U.S. coal mining accident since 1970, and remains the target of civil and criminal investigations. (AP Photo/Provided by Quarles family)

West Virginia Public Broadcasting also had a retrospective, as did West Virginia Metro News and the Daily Mail (which also had this photo gallery of Upper Big Branch images). The Beckley Register-Herald is planning a special section for tomorrow.

UPDATED: Dori Hjalmarson at the Lexington Herald Leader had this piece about the disaster’s impacts in Kentucky.

UPDATED 2: Another interesting story from Greenwire, just posted on the New York Times Website, regarding the legal battle over the Upper Big Branch investigation:

A federal appeals court appeared sympathetic this morning to Massey Energy Co.’s argument that it should have been able to immediately challenge a government order that restricted it from completing its own investigation into the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is considering whether the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, which handles legal disputes over mining regulations, was wrong to rule that it had no authority to consider Massey’s appeal.

UPDATED 3:  And my friend Mike Gorrell at The Salt Lake Tribune had this take on MSHA’s actions since the mine disaster:

In the year since 29 coal miners died in an explosion at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine, federal regulators have cracked down hard to improve mine safety.

But in spreading that message of enhanced enforcement, federal Mine Safety and Health Administration boss Joe Main acknowledges that the campaign still has a way to go before accomplishing its goal of zero fatalities in the industry.

“Mine safety takes a lot of work and you have to be able to spend time to make things work,” Main said Thursday in a telephone interview from suburban Washington, D.C., pledging to see that effort through.

A series of memorial services are scheduled for tomorrow, with the evening event in Whitesville being closed to the public, but available via Web streaming from the West Virginia University School of Journalism’s Faces of the Mine site.

West Virginia Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, acting as governor, has asked all state residents to observe a moment of silence starting at 3:01 p.m., and will lay a wreath at the coal miner statue at the Capitol.  The state’s special investigator, Davitt McAteer, has concluded that the explosion occurred sometime between 3:01 and 30 seconds and 3:02 and 30 seconds.