By Mike Lillis
Massey Energy, the Appalachian coal giant, blasted the federal mine safety agency on Thursday, claiming that officials visiting the site of the deadly April 5 West Virginia mining accident this week have compromised the probe into the disaster’s cause. Yet, not only was it Massey that initiated the visit, according to e-mails obtained by The Hill, but Massey officials joined the tour, according to a spokeswoman for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
On Thursday, several high-profile players surrounding the Upper Big Branch (UBB) disaster went underground to observe conditions there. The figures included Joe Main, head of MSHA; Davitt McAteer, a mine safety expert who’s heading the state’s investigation into the blast; and Cecil Roberts, head of the United Mine Workers of America.
The tour prompted an immediate rebuke from Massey, which issued a press release accusing MSHA of potentially trampling on evidence.
By conducting their tour, said Massey CEO Don Blankenship, “MSHA continues to undermine the integrity of the data collected from UBB.” Massey General Counsel Shane Harvey weighed in as well, saying it’s “unheard of for MSHA to parade non-technical political operatives through critical areas of the UBB mine without first having key pieces of evidence in these sections properly secured.”
“Individuals are literally stepping on potential evidence before it has been photographed, mapped or preserved,” Harvey said in a statement.
Yet a recent e-mail to MSHA from another Massey attorney, David Hardy, reveals that it was Massey that requested the tour.
“Don Blankenship, Pete Hendrick, together with two other Massey representatives, would like to go underground at UBB on Tuesday, June 29th,” Hardy wrote on June 25. “We suggest that they go underground at 9:00 AM, which should not interfere with the investigation teams.”
MSHA officials set up the visit for Thursday, and included Main, Roberts and McAteer “to be fair to all of the organizations making up the mine investigation team,” according to an MSHA release.
“Ironically,” MSHA continued, “Blankenship indicated a desire to visit the longwall area, and the investigation team denied his request because that area has not yet been investigated. He subsequently declined to participate, although Massey Energy was permitted to have other officials travel underground, under escort, and observe conditions at the mine.”
Massey did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday.