Coal Tattoo

Well, we’re waiting now to see if the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration is going to answer important questions about the mine rescue effort at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine.

If any readers missed it, the release by MSHA of testimony of mine rescue team members indicated those brave and dedicated individuals had serious concerns about the way the operation was being run. Some of them worried that politics was at work.

But this isn’t the first time that these concerns were raised, according to some records I obtained from MSHA through a federal Freedom of Information Act request.

Check out this series of email messages between Department of Labor officials and Sam Petsonk, who was then an aide to Sen. Robert C. Byrd:

Petsonk asks DOL and MSHA officials:

We are continuing to get inquiries from the families of rescue team members about whether the teams are safe and which ones are underground. I have raised this issue repeatedly with MSHA, the state, and Massey over the past 48 hours and still there has been scant public messaging to assuage the safety concerns of the families of the 150 rescue team members.

Please provide this type of reassurance in a very public way immediately. It could be on your website, on the single source page.

Charmaine Manansala, a top legislative aide to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, responded:

Sam, the rescue teams are the company’s responsibility so only they have the information that you’re looking for. As soon as the company makes the info public, MSHA will post it on the website.

Also interesting, given MSHA chief Joe Main’s promises to always provide information to the families before anybody else, is the note on the top of one of Manansala’s emails to various congressional staffers:

CONFIDENTIAL UPDATE – not to be shared with the public.

This information is not public yet. It is being provided for your bosses’ information, but should not be shared with anyone . Some of this information has not yet been made available to the families and is very sensitive.