Twenty-nine miners died in the April 5 explosion, which mine safety experts have said was likely caused by the ignition of methane gas and was made far worse -- blasting through 2 1/2 miles of mine tunnels -- by the buildup of highly explosive coal dust.
The disaster is the focus of multiple civil investigations, a congressional inquiry, and prompted federal prosecutors to begin their own examination, looking for possible criminal wrongdoing related to hundreds of Upper Big Branch safety violations dating back more than four years.
Over the past few months, nonunion Massey has engaged in an aggressive public relations campaign aimed at MSHA. Joe Main, the United Mine Workers' union's longtime safety director, currently runs MSHA. The Obama administration repeatedly has blasted Massey as a scofflaw that puts profits ahead of worker safety.
Massey had argued that its lawsuit over the MSHA investigation deserved a speedy hearing because the company is suffering "irreparable harm" every day the inquiry proceeds under the federal government's rules.
Miller disagreed, siding with MSHA lawyers who argued that, "the circumstances of this case, the importance of the accident investigation, and the ability of MSHA to control that investigation, present no continuing harm or hardship to the mine.
"Indeed, [MSHA] has demonstrated that the order is in place to meet its mandate to conduct an investigation in a manner that supports its paramount concern, i.e., the safety of those entering the mine," Miller wrote. "Performance, on the other hand, makes little to no mention of safety for persons conducting the investigation or the extreme care that is necessary in such circumstances.
"The only harm suffered by Performance is its inability to use the protocols it wishes to use during the investigation," Miller added. "This is not the kind of harm that warrants an expedited hearing."
Miller complained that Massey's lawyers -- including high-profile Washington, D.C., criminal defense attorney Robert Luskin -- "continue to file volumes of documents that require a great deal of time to read and to respond to, while at the same time they continue to avoid addressing the real issues as directed by the court."
Miller said a full hearing on the Massey lawsuit will not focus on modifying MSHA's investigation procedures to the company's liking, but only on whether the order outlining the procedure is unreasonable and should, therefore, be thrown out altogether.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.