Later, in an interview, MSHA chief Joe Main said, "Could we have done more? The answer is yes. And have we done more? The answer is yes. We're using tools that weren't in use on April 5."
On the state level, the McAteer report said that understaffed and overworked inspectors at the Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training often do not complete required quarterly inspections and lack expert staff to address more complicated issues such as mine ventilation.
At the time of the explosion, the state inspector assigned to Upper Big Branch had not examined the mine's longwall section since mid-December 2009. The inspector, Gerald Pauley, admitted he did not examine parts of the mine because he "ran into water up to my knees."
McAteer blamed the state agency's inactions on the coal industry's political influence in West Virginia.
"There are within the WVMHST many dedicated, committed and safety-conscious inspectors and supervisors who are not afraid to issue citations or provide tough enforcement," the report said. "However, the overwhelming scope of the job, the economic circumstances of a booming coal industry, the pressure to get along, the recognition of the importance of mining jobs within the state are factors that place immense pressures on state inspectors, pressures which make the regulatory enforcement process difficult to carry out."
In his statement responding to the McAteer report, Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, acting as governor, said, "With the information presented in the report, we are steps closer to identifying the cause of this horrific incident and also to identifying potential reforms to improve mine safety."
Federal and state lawmakers have both declined to pass any new mine safety protections in the year since the Upper Big Branch mine blew up, killing 29 workers.Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.