CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A key House leader is pressing the Obama administration for answers about whether U.S. Labor Department inspectors may have tipped off Massey Energy officials about inspections at the company's Upper Big Branch Mine prior to the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.
House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., has asked the department's Mine Safety and Health Administration for a variety of records about the matter.
Kline cited sworn statements by one-time Upper Big Branch superintendent Gary May that MSHA inspectors regularly told company officials when they planned to visit the Raleigh County mine.
"I recognize the MSHA has made the eradication of advance notice by mine operators an enforcement priority," Kline said in a letter sent last week to MSHA chief Joe Main. "However, it is unclear whether you have made an equal effort to ensure MSHA personnel are not -- even inadvertently -- providing advanced notice of inspections."
Kline asked MSHA to provide records about MSHA guidance on advance notice of inspections, citations issued to mine operators related to advance notice, and documents about any instances where agency officials did or were alleged to have warned operators about impending inspections.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin has already said his office is investigating the allegations made by May when he pleaded guilty as part of a deal that has him cooperating with the sprawling federal criminal investigation of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster. May admitted to a one-count felony charge that he conspired to violate mine safety standards and cover up the resulting unsafe conditions.
Among other things, May 43, of Bloomingrose, admitted he took part in a scheme to provide advance warning of government inspections and then hide or correct violations before federal agents could make it into working sections of the sprawling mine.
During a March 29 plea hearing in Beckley, U.S. District Judge Irene Berger asked May to explain who took part in that conspiracy with him.