And MSHA's investigation team for the Upper Big Branch Mine came under scrutiny, with media reports focusing on top investigator Norman Page's ties to the May 2006 explosion that killed five miners.
Page was MSHA's district manager in eastern Kentucky when the Darby Disaster occurred, and an internal review published by MSHA found, among other things, that inspectors under his supervision overlooked unsafe roof conditions, inadequate ventilation and the operator's failure to conduct pre-shift safety examinations.
The internal review report did not blame MSHA for the deaths, but cited weak supervision by MSHA officials as contributing to overlooked violations at the mine.
MSHA has not commented so far on Page's connections to Darby, but Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said on Sunday, "I believe that we have put the very best people on this, and [MSHA chief] Joe [Main] and I are confident of their expertise, their abilities and their integrity."
In Washington, the House of Representatives passed a resolution to honor the Upper Big Branch miners.
Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., said on the House floor that "generations of these families go into the mines" and the miners "live with the knowledge that there is risk, and they are proud to take that risk to labor in the company of good and loyal friends to earn an honest paycheck in order to provide for their families and themselves."
Rahall added, "That this deadly explosion occurred is infuriatingly, frustratingly heartbreaking and I am determined that we will get to the bottom of it and ensure that steps are taken to prevent a recurrence of this type of explosion."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.