Download the report and read more: http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal safety inspectors failed to identify dangerous accumulations of explosive coal dust at the Upper Big Branch Mine, curtailed harsher enforcement actions against mine operator Massey Energy, and did not conduct legally mandated complete mine examinations before the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners, the Obama administration disclosed in a report issued Tuesday.
U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration officials did not forward potential criminal violations for proper investigation, allowed uncertified trainees to inspect key parts of the mine, and did not monitor Massey safety reports to ensure obvious hazards were corrected, according to a long-awaited MSHA "internal review" report.
MSHA enforcement efforts at the Raleigh County mine were severely compromised because agency officials -- from rank-and-file inspectors to top managers -- did not follow established government policies and procedures, according to the more than 300-page report.
The report said an internal team of MSHA officials found no evidence that missteps by agency employees caused the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in nearly 40 years, but a retired MSHA manager who led the internal review until last fall said there was no good excuse for the kinds of problems uncovered.
"I wouldn't think we would have these kinds of issues in this day and age," said longtime MSHA official Jack Kuzar. "Oversight wasn't very good. We just didn't take care of business."
House Education and the Workforce Chairman Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said the internal review "documents a disturbing failure of enforcement by MSHA.
"A mine operator recklessly endangered the lives of its workers and federal enforcement officials failed to hold the operator accountable," Kline said in a prepared statement. "While the responsibility for this tragedy lies with Massey, any effort to enhance mine safety will not succeed if enforcement officials do not effectively do their jobs."
MSHA officials posted the report on the Internet just after a private briefing for families of the miners who died at Upper Big Branch, and then held a news conference that emphasized agency efforts to improve.
"I don't think there's any question that MSHA could have done better," said agency chief Joe Main. "I don't think there's any question that we surely plan to do better."
Main said his agency has already instituted a variety of reforms, would continue examining the internal review to come up with other advances, and plans to keep seeking additional enforcement authorities from Congress.
"MSHA is responsible for its actions and will address each of the problems the team has specifically identified," Main said.
Among the most serious areas in which the internal review team said MSHA fell short of its mandate to protect the coal miners at Upper Big Branch: