CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Obama administration plans to split its Southern West Virginia operations into two separate district offices in the wake of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster and other, recurring problems at its existing District 4 operation.
The move follows through on a proposal that Joe Main, assistant secretary of labor for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, floated in a congressional hearing just weeks after 29 miners died in the April 5, 2010, explosion at the Massey Energy operation.
As part of its proposal to increase MSHA's overall budget by about 5 percent -- to $394 million -- the White House included $634,000 to cover costs of essentially creating a second district office.
The Obama budget contains additional money to help reduce a backlog of appealed enforcement cases, fund MSHA's efforts to eliminate black lung disease, and hire 30 new agency staffers.
During a budget briefing Monday, Main and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis declined to answer questions about the reasons for creating the new West Virginia district, and budget documents released so far provide only a glimpse at the administration's thinking.
"Of the 11 districts, District 4 has the most employees and the most significant workload with the smallest ratio of supervisory staff to line employees," MSHA said in one report called a budget justification. "It has become too large to effectively manage."
After two miners died five years ago in the January 2006 fire at Massey's Aracoma Mine in Logan County, an internal MSHA review report blasted inadequate inspections and enforcement of the mine and poor supervision by MSHA management.
But problems in District 4 had started before Aracoma and continued afterward.