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House Committee Subpoenas Chao

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., has subpoenaed Labor Secretary Elaine Chao because the committee has not received documents it requested from the Department of Labor in conjunction with the Aug. 6 mine disaster at Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah.

According to Miller, the action was “a last resort, to compel and expedite this production of information.”

The subpeona demands internal documents sent from the Labor Department to the Crandall Canyon mine owners before and after the tragedy, in which six miners were entombed on Aug. 6. Subsequent rescue efforts claimed the lives of three rescue workers and injured six more.

Specifically, Miller is asking for:

  • All documented communication between the Labor Department and Murray Energy Corp., and former Crandall Canyon mine owners Genwal Resources Inc. and Andalex Resources Inc.
  • Any internal documents from the Labor Department related to the Crandall Canyon incident.
  • Any documented communication related to the Crandall Canyon incident from other executive branch offices to the Labor Department.
  • Any communications related to the August request by the committee for these documents.

In addition, Miller specifically asks for all documents starting from Jan. 29, 2001 through Sept. 25, 2007 between Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy Corp., and Chao, Acting Deputy Secretary Howard Radzely, Acting Solicitor of Labor Jonathan Snare or MSHA Administrator Richard Stickler.

A call made to the Department of Labor's Office of Public Affairs for comment and further information was not returned.

DOL Wants Committee to Halt Mine Disaster Probe

The House committee is in the process of performing its own investigation in the matter, as a series of mine disasters in the last 2 years have prompted a flurry of mine safety laws and a lack of confidence in MSHA's ability to effectively oversee mine safety.

At the first hearing on the Utah mine disaster, which took place on Sept. 5, lawmakers questioned why the agency allowed certain mining techniques such as retreat mining to take place. Experts have said that retreat mining contributed to the Aug. 6 collapse. For more on the first Utah mine disaster hearing, read "Union Testifies Crandall Canyon Mine Was Unsafe.".

However, the Labor Department has made clear that it doesn't agree with lawmakers performing their own investigation. Weeks before the subpoena, Snare – in a letter – reportedly asked the committee to halt its probe into the Crandall Canyon mine's cave-in until MSHA completed its investigation, claiming that the a parallel investigation could “taint” the agency's enforcement ability.

Miller's committee and a Senate panel both will hold hearings concerning the disaster during the week of Oct. 1. The hearings will determine if further changes need to be made to the Mine Improvement New Emergency Response (MINER) Act, which was signed after the mine tragedies at the Sago and Aracoma mines brought new-found attention to the issue of mine safety.

TAGS: Archive OSHA
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