This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A congressional committee took mine owner Murray Energy and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration to the woodshed this week, laying blame for the deadly August collapse at the Crandall Canyon coal mine in Emery County.
"Murray was operating a dangerous mine in a potentially dangerous manner, while being either lax on or hostile to safety and bullying a compliant MSHA." And that's just the opening line of the blistering 75-page report by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which reads like an indictment. Now it's up to the U.S. Department of Justice to see that the coal company and the federal agency get the punishment they deserve.
Most damning is the revelation that the coal company ignored a direct order from an MSHA mine inspector and continued to carve coal from a barrier pillar that served as a roof support in the mine. It proved to be the last in a series of mistakes leading up to the Aug. 6 implosion at the now-defunct deep mine, where six miners are entombed and three more died during rescue attempts.
The report is the embodiment of committee hearings conducted last year and the work of Senate committee investigators, who reviewed more than 100,000 pages of documents and conducted dozens of interviews. It paints a picture of corporate greed on the part of Murray Energy, and gross incompetence by MSHA, which "rubber-stamped" an ill-fated "retreat mining" plan that was based on flawed data and never should have been attempted, or approved.
Investigators also found that the company ignored, and MSHA inspectors failed to detect, deteriorating conditions in the mine in the months prior to the fatal August accident.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and a host of ranking Republicans took the committee to task, claiming MSHA should have been permitted to complete its own accident investigation before the committee passed judgment. Hatch apparently fails to grasp the absurdity of a government agency investigating itself, and the fact that the oversight committee was simply doing its job.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the committee chairman, said the report proves that a comprehensive criminal investigation by the Justice Department is warranted. Justice officials said they will consider the committee's request for a probe. It certainly seems appropriate.
Now it's up to the U.S. Department of Justice to see that the coal company and the federal agency get the punishment they deserve.