Massey taps ex-MSHA execs in UBB evidence fight

UPPER Big Branch mine owner Massey Energy has gotten the support of two former high-ranking members of the US Mine Safety and Health Administration in its fight against the federal agency regarding evidence collection.
Massey taps ex-MSHA execs in UBB evidence fight Massey taps ex-MSHA execs in UBB evidence fight Massey taps ex-MSHA execs in UBB evidence fight Massey taps ex-MSHA execs in UBB evidence fight Massey taps ex-MSHA execs in UBB evidence fight


Donna Schmidt

On Friday the producer said former MSHA assistant secretary of labor David Lauriski and former deputy administrator Michael Lawless have both signed declarations supporting it in its legal action against the federal agency.

Both agree that MSHA has exceeded its legal authority by barring Massey from photographing the mine and conducting electronic mapping and dust sample tests to help determine what caused an April 5 explosion that killed 29.

Massey is currently awaiting a decision from the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission in its request to overturn MSHA’s order against it.

According to the company, Lauriski called federal regulators’ prohibitions against the producer “extraordinary and problematic”, also noting that the move is unrelated to miner health and safety and exceeds MSHA’s authority. Additionally, the former MSHA official said no other operator has ever had such restrictions imposed during an accident investigation.

“Massey … has the right to take photographs during such inspections and investigations [of a mine after an accident], to map a mine or an area of a mine, to take dust samples and observe and/or participate in evidence testing without impeding or interfering with MSHA’s inspection or investigation,” the company said of Lauriski’s statement.

“In his professional opinion, allowing Massey to take pictures, to map, and to sample coal dust would not interfere with the federal investigation — and, he noted, Massey has offered to share all of any information it gathers with federal investigators,” Massey officials added.

Lawless, a three-decade veteran of MSHA, concurred that the prohibitions over Massey “cannot be justified by safety concerns or the current condition of the mine”, according to his declaration.

“To my knowledge … MSHA has never imposed such wide-ranging restrictions on any mine operator during an accident investigation,” he stated, and noted that federal regulators often used photos, electronic maps and coal dust samples provided by a mine operator in their investigation reports.

Massey vice president and general counsel Shane Harvey said the statements by Lauriski and Lawless illustrate the unusual nature of the limits MSHA has imposed on the producer.

“For an accident as serious as UBB, the more information that can be gathered during the investigation, the better,” he said.

“Yet, MSHA is doing what it can to limit our ability to look into an accident at one of our own mines. This isn’t right … and it doesn’t look good for MSHA, given that its own conduct is under investigation.”

The agency did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Exploratory teams entered UBB on June 7 to make the mine safe for investigators. Their work was completed late last month, at which time state and federal agencies entered to begin the underground portion of the probe.