Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Families of W.Va. mine disaster victims, UMW sue to open probe as closed-door interviews begin

Yesterday, federal and state investigators began closed-door interviews in their investigation of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion that killed 29 West Virginia miners last month, but the United Mine Workers and the families of two victims have filed suit to open the investigation. "In their suit seeking public sessions, lawyers for the UMW and the families of miners William Griffith and Ronald Maynor argued, among other things, that the closed-door interviews allow regulators to avoid difficult questions about the performance of government agencies charged with protecting miners," Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette reports.

Officials with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration and the West Virginia Office of Miners Health Safety and Training began the interviews by questioning their own inspectors that had visited the Massey Energy mine prior to the April 5 explosion. "Without the participation of miners' representatives in the accident investigation interviews, MSHA's analysis of its own role, if any, will remain secretive and inherently suspect," states the lawsuit, filed against MSHA chief Joe Main Monday in federal court in Charleston.

"U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger did not immediately rule or schedule a hearing on the suit's request for a temporary restraining order to stop the interviews until the case could be more fully argued," Ward writes. Several workers at the non-union mine have appointed the UMW as their official representative."We believe it is imperative for the families of the victims of this tragedy to be able to hear the evidence that will be gathered in these interviews for themselves," UMW President Cecil Roberts told Ward. "We also believe that the workers -- who will have to go back to work in that mine -- must be allowed to have their designated representatives in the interviews, asking questions and hearing testimony first-hand." (Read more)

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