"Every place I went the last couple of weeks, I was asked one simple question: 'Why didn't you shut that mine down?' " Main said. "We need to do something quick, and the injunctive tool is the best thing that we've looked at."
Another witness, United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts, defended Main, who is a former miner and was the longtime former UMW safety director.
"You can hold Joe accountable and you should," Roberts said. "But it's not going to be long before the coal industry is in here saying, 'He's too tough on us.' He's going to enforce the law. MSHA is going to enforce the law, and coal miners are going to be safer for this."
Roberts called for criminal prosecution in the Upper Big Branch disaster, saying that he's confident that "the people at the very top here, and the board of directors knew this mine was in this kind of shape."
"These miners who work at Massey are scared to death," Roberts said. "This company is run like it's 1921, not the present day."
One former Massey miner, Jeffrey Harris, testified that when he worked for the company mine management routinely ignored methane accumulations and fired miners who complained about safety problems.
"If an operator wants to, it's pretty easy to cut corners on safety," Harris said. "That's exactly what I saw at the Massey mines where I worked.
"Those people who died," Harris added, "they didn't have to die."
Massey officials were not invited to the Senate hearing, but later issued a statement calling Roberts' comments "outrageous" and saying Harris worked for a Massey subsidiary for "a short period of time."
"We find his statements difficult to believe and do not believe he raised any such concern while in our employment," Massey said in its statement. "The picture he paints is not representative of Massey's mines and Massey does not tolerate such conditions."
Bruce Watzman, a lobbyist for the National Mining Association, testified at the hearing on industry's behalf. Watzman said no new laws or regulations are needed and that MSHA has plenty of tools to force safety compliance.
Watzman conceded that the Upper Big Branch disaster has shaken public confidence that the mining industry has improved since a string of disasters in 2006 and 2007 in West Virginia, Kentucky and Utah.
"We do not accept this or any mining tragedy as inevitable," Watzman said. "At the very least, we must use Upper Big Branch as a tool to further improve mine safety."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.