MSHA chief Joe Main fired back at those accusations during the Senate hearing Thursday in Washington.
"MSHA did not run the Upper Big Branch Mine," Main said. "Massey did. They were the ones who operated the mine, and there is no doubt in my mind that conditions in that mine were not good."
During that hearing, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., complained to Main that MSHA did not launch an inspection sweep of mines with a history of serious safety problems until after the Upper Big Branch explosion.
Byrd pressed Main several times for answers about why the agency waited until after the deaths, until Main finally responded, "The only thing I can say is that the agency didn't do it. That's something we'll look at and try to figure out what we did or didn't do."
"We have shortcomings," Main said.
Massey's Ruby Energy Mine was among 57 coal mines in 10 states targeted in that MSHA inspection blitz, which focused on mines with repeated violations of ventilation and coal-dust standards.
During the later April inspection blitz, MSHA issued 29 citations and four more serious enforcement orders at Ruby Energy. Twelve of the 33 enforcement actions were considered serious and substantial by MSHA inspectors.
During Thursday's Senate hearing, Blankenship strongly disputed any suggestion that Massey has a poor record or puts profits before safety practices.
"No coal company can succeed over the long term without a total commitment to safety and a significant investment in necessary training, equipment and personnel," Blankenship told lawmakers. "We strive to remain an industry leader in safety by developing new technologies and employing effective training programs to reduce accidents and improve safety for all of the hard-working men and women of Massey Energy."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.