By Vicki Smith
The Associated PressMORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The Mine Safety and Health Administration on Monday asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit over its plan to privately interview witnesses in a deadly April coal mine explosion, arguing no outside party has the right to control or direct investigations.
In filings with the U.S. District Court in Beckley, MSHA and agency director Joe Main also argue the court lacks jurisdiction to rule on the demands made by the United Mine Workers of America and the families of two miners who were among 29 men killed at the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal.
The UMW is participating in the investigation as a representative of some miners, even though the accident occurred at a nonunion mine owned by Virginia-based Massey Energy.
The union and relatives of miners William Griffith and Ronald Maynor want a court order allowing them to observe the interviews MSHA is conducting with witnesses, but Main argues in a memorandum with the motion to dismiss that they have no legal foundation for such a demand.
MSHA is not using its subpoena power to compel testimony. Rather, it's seeking "sworn voluntary testimony from willing participants.'' The plaintiffs, the agency argues, "are at liberty to do the same.''
The agency has previously said a combination of private interviews and public hearings will protect the integrity of the investigation and the confidentiality of witnesses without impeding a criminal investigation that's also under way.