"MSHA has made relentless and entirely self-serving efforts to impugn Massey Energy and [subsidiary] Performance Coal ever since the accident itself," the court filing said. "At a time of great tragedy and confusion, MSHA immediately sought very publicly to assign blame and to distance itself from its own responsibility for the conditions that may have caused or contributed to the disaster."
MSHA officials have not responded to requests for comment about Massey managers fighting the state's subpoenas, but federal officials issued a news release Wednesday to tout a federal administrative law judge's decision to reject Massey's challenge to MSHA investigation procedures.
"Massey's complaints about the investigation were unfounded, and the company was not disadvantaged in any way," said MSHA chief Joe Main.
Also Wednesday, The Associated Press reported that Massey CEO Don Blankenship had revealed what Blankenship said was evidence that several Upper Big Branch victims knew before their deaths that explosive methane was pouring into the mine just moments before the explosion. Blankenship said there's evidence that miners cut off electricity to the cutting head of the mine's main mining machine and stopped its conveyor belt.
In early August, state mine safety director Ron Wooten had revealed that the mine's longwall mining machine was turned off about 98 seconds before the explosion was believed to have occurred.
And during a media briefing on Aug. 11, MSHA officials confirmed that information, and said that further investigation was needed to determine exactly what it meant.
"The machine was not mining coal when this occurred," said Kevin Stricklin, MSHA's coal administrator. "We're not sure if someone hit an emergency stop button or if the person who had remote control ... if you walk so far away, it also shuts down."
In the AP story, Blankenship also revealed that there was what regulators call a "methane outburst" from the Upper Big Branch Mine floor in 1997, prior to previously reported outbursts in 2003 and 2004.
Investigators are examining whether a methane outburst played a role in the April disaster. Neither Massey nor MSHA has explained publicly what -- if anything -- was done after the earlier incidents to prevent a recurrence.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.