Monday, March 31, 2008

Inspector General Issues Crandall Canyon Report

The Department of Labor Inspector General has just issued its report on MSHA's role before and during the Crandall Canyon Mine tragedy last August.

According to their summary:

MSHA was negligent in carrying out its responsibilities to protect the safety of miners. Specifically, MSHA could not show that it made the right decision in approving the Crandall Canyon Mine roof control plan or that the process was free from undue influence by the mine operator...Further, MSHA did not ensure that subsequent inspections assessed compliance with, and the effectiveness of, approved plans...

In addition, during the rescue attempt:

MSHA...lacked guidance on appropriate non-rescue activities.

The IG says it made nine recomendations.

The summary seems delicately worded in some ways. "Was negligent" -- that's strong indeed. A statement like that seems as if it might subject the government to a lawsuit, unless MSHA is shielded by the principle of Sovereign Immunity, which I would guess is probalby the case in this instance. As I understand it, if they were just doing their job, no matter how badly, a lawsuit is unlikely to have any traction.

On the other hand, the summary continues mildly: the agency "could not show" that it handled plan approval properly. No clear, positive statement that the approval was definitely wrong.

The whole document, summary and MSHA response are posted here.

U.S. House Education and Labor Committee chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) immediately issued a statement urging firther action of the S-Miner Act.

The Inspector General’s report highlights the fact that miners performing retreat mining in this country remain at serious risk because of MSHA’s deeply flawed process for reviewing and approving retreat mining plans. In January, the House of Representatives passed legislation to require that MSHA strengthen its procedures for reviewing and approving retreat mining plans. The legislation also requires MSHA to observe retreat mining operations once they are in place to ensure they are being performed in accordance with the plans and that miners are properly trained. The Inspector General’s report shows why this legislation is so urgently needed, and I strongly urge the Senate to pass it.

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