Asked about Massey subsidiary Aracoma Coal Co.'s guilty plea to 10 criminal mine safety violations in the January 2006 fire that killed two Logan County miners, Inman said, "profit had nothing to do with the Aracoma fire."
At the same time, the UMW announced that several workers at Upper Big Branch had appointed the union as their "miners' representative" to take part in the disaster investigation at the non-union operation.
The move gets UMW officials into the room during investigative interviews, and state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training officials have said Massey lawyers would also be allowed to attend. But so far, neither the Obama administration nor Gov. Joe Manchin have announced any plans to make those interviews -- typically conducted behind closed doors -- more transparent to the victims' families and the general public.
At least two widows have asked MSHA chief Joe Main to conduct the entire investigation through a public hearing. Main, a former UMW safety director, has not responded to those requests. On Monday, the lawyer for the family of fallen miner William Griffith wrote to Main again asking that the investigation be conducted in the open.
"The investigation of the Upper Big Branch disaster must not exclude the independent voices of the miners or the families of the victims," wrote lawyers Rachel Hanna Moreland and Mark D. Moreland. "In that connection, we ask for a meeting at your earliest convenience to discuss our request for public hearing and/or any of the issues raised in this and prior correspondence."
Interviews had been scheduled to begin Tuesday, but have been postponed for at least a week. Investigators are also expecting that the presence of explosive gases and a possible fire underground will keep them from getting back underground at Upper Big Branch for at least a month and possible as long as three months.
Also Monday, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis included in her agency's new regulatory agenda proposals to revise MSHA's criteria for fining mine operators for violations and for taking stepped up enforcement against mines with repeated violations. In both cases, proposed changes aren't expected until at least January 2011.
The new MSHA regulatory agenda also includes a proposal -- not due until March 2011 -- to expand pre-shift safety check requirements for underground mines. Currently, MSHA regulations require only that pre-shift examinations look for "hazardous conditions." MSHA wants to instead require what federal law actually mandates -- safety checks for any violations of mandatory health and safety standards.
At its news conference, Massey said it is providing surviving spouses of the miners with health-care benefits for 20 years, as well as life insurance equal to five times' the miners' annual pay. Massey also said it will pay surviving spouses the difference between typical workers' compensation payments and the miners' salary.
Also, Massey said it would provide dependent children with four-year scholarships to any West Virginia public college, university or vocational school.
Families do not have to waive their rights to sue the company to receive these benefits, Massey said.
"We believe this is the most generous benefit package in the industry," Foglesong said.
@tag:Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.