WASHINGTON The House Education and Labor Committee subpoenaed Labor Secretary Elaine Chao Monday, seeking key internal communications documents for its investigation into the Crandall Canyon Mine accident.
Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., requested numerous documents just after the Aug. 6 accident that killed six miners and a later incident that killed three rescue workers, but the committee has not received them. He used the subpoena "as a last resort," according to the committee, which released a copy of it late Monday.
Communications director Tom Kiley said the department has produced some of the requested documents, but it still is missing communications records.
"Those communications are vital to the committee's investigation," Kiley said. "The committee would prefer to work cooperatively with the Labor Department to secure this information, but by failing to cooperate with us, the Labor Department has left us no choice but to subpoena the information.
"The committee intends to conduct a comprehensive, independent investigation of the tragedy so that we can help learn what steps we can take to prevent future tragedies."
Miller's subpoena demands any communication between the department and Murray Energy, including CEO Bob Murray, as well as internal department communication and anything with other federal agencies or with the committee's investigation into the accident.
It specifically asks for all communication from Jan. 29, 2001, through today between Murray and Chao, Acting Deputy Secretary of Labor Howard Radzely, Acting Solicitor of Labor Jonathan Snare or Mine Safety and Health Administration head Richard Stickler.
Chao has until Oct. 9 to produce the documents. The committee of which Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, is a member has a hearing planned for Oct. 3 to examine what happened at the mine, but the investigation does not stop with that hearing, according to the committee. A thorough investigation will take place, which can include additional hearings if needed, according to the committee.
Interviews have taken place at the MSHA office in Denver, and investigators from the committee were at the mine site from Aug. 20 through Aug. 25, according to the committee.
Meanwhile the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has a hearing planned for Oct. 2. Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., also has requested numerous documents from the department. Kennedy, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and other senators wrote Labor Department Inspector General Gordon Heddell last week asking for an expedited review.
During a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee meeting on Sept. 5, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he had not ruled out issuing a subpoena to Murray. As of last week, there had been no movement on that subpoena.
Witness lists for next week's mine hearings have yet to be finalized.
The Labor Department had requested that Miller put off his investigation until MSHA has finished its own look at the accident, but Miller said it was the committee's "responsibility and obligation" to do its own investigation.
"The families of the miners who died and active miners all over the country deserve an objective and independent review of the tragedy that will help us to prevent future tragedies," Miller said.
But Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., the top Republican on the committee, encouraged Miller to consider MSHA's request, saying that "it serves no one's interests particularly those of the miners and their families if our Committee engages in any activity which might in any way compromise a legitimate federal investigation by the agency charged under the law with this undertaking."McKeon asked Miller to outline the plans for the investigation, including what it specifically plans to do to "ensure that its activities do not compromise or prejudice MSHA's civil and criminal investigation."