Labor Department: Rescue team members at Upper Big Branch were Massey Energy’s responsibility

May 9, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

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.

2 Responses to “Labor Department: Rescue team members at Upper Big Branch were Massey Energy’s responsibility”

  1. Rob says:

    This is sad. When things go awry, they’re going to hide behind words. Nothing happens at mine emergencies without MSHA’s approval. This is like saying it’s the company’s roof control and ventilation plan. If they need MSHA approval in order to be implemented, whose are they really?

    When it goes good, they drape each other with awards. But when it goes bad, they run and hide behind lawyers.

  2. Ellen says:

    I would like to direct people people back to the successful way in which information was handled in the Quecreek Mine rescue — BEFORE anyone knew that the miners were alive.

    MSHA’s staff, including Amy Louviere, were very successful at keeping the family members and press briefed. As I recall, briefings were every few hours where the families were briefed first in the church, and then within 15-30 minutes, the press would be briefed. It was very well run — a model for handling a disaster. We all knew what was going on — families and the press. The press was allowed to ask many questions, and I assume the families were as well. If a drill broke, we knew it. Something went wrong, we knew it. Something went right, we knew it. Little to no changes, we knew it.

    Why the LABOR DEPT. refuses to go back to this model is beyond logic.

    On another note, when I was SCREAMING about the fact that MSHA and Murray Energy allowed the press into the Crandall Canyon Mine while an acitve rescue was taking place in the most dangerous ground conditions that had never been dealt with before, I was told, “It’s Murray’s Mine, he can do whatever he wants.” So there you have it in the proverbial nutshell.

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