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MSHA establishes another mine blast team

By Ed O'Keefe

The Mine Safety and Health Administration said Tuesday that a new investigative team will focus on anonymous whistle-blower tips and concerns expressed by mine workers and the families of victims of the April 5 West Virginia mine blast.

The team will be led by a retired MSHA regional manager who was stationed in Indiana. Most of the efforts will focus on tips and concerns phoned in to a toll-free line established by the agency (877-827-3966).

The new efforts "will give family members and others the opportunity to share information they might otherwise not feel comfortable passing along," MSHA Administrator Joseph A. Main said in a statement. The team provides "an added layer of integrity" to the process by protecting Massey Energy employees who are fearful of retaliation, according to an Obama administration official.

The agency said it also plans to launch an internal investigation to explore what officials did before the Upper Big Branch mine explosion and whether those actions complied with the 1977 Miner Act, which established most MSHA policies and procedures.

Critics blame the agency for not effectively responding to inquiries and concerns expressed by families of the blast victims. Announcement of the new investigative teams follow a Justice Department decision to launch a criminal investigation of the blast.

MSHA officials also met with Massey officials on Tuesday, according to an agency spokesman. The company said it has drilled a new borehole and is in the process of drilling another to get to the blast site, according the spokesman.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | May 4, 2010; 4:28 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Oversight  
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MSHA in the aftermath of the Upper Big Branch disaster resembles MMS in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, a castrated agency that knew how to do better but did nothing.

Both agencies have urgent efforts to shut the barn doors after the horses have been stolen. Neither has had, for more than 30 years now, a creditable record of service.

Good ol' Ed O'Keefe, may he keep lights burning. But for the rest of us, the federal agencies are defunct and need to be erased and reconstructed.

Posted by: AppDev | May 4, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

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