WASHINGTON Murray Energy and the Mine Safety and Health Administration are to blame for last year's Crandall Canyon Mine disaster that killed nine people, according to a report issued by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., today.
Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, known as HELP, released results Thursday of the committee's investigation in the collapse at the mine. But Murray Energy and others were quick to point out this is not the final word on the accident.
"The committee's investigation has revealed that the owner of Crandall Canyon Mine, Murray Energy, disregarded dangerous conditions at the mine, failed to tell federal regulators about these dangers, conducted unauthorized mining and as a result exposed its miners to serious risks," Kennedy said. "MSHA also unconscionably failed to protect miners by hastily rubber-stamping the plan. This is a clear case of callous disregard for the law and for safety standards, and hard-working miners lost their lives."
Kennedy calls for a criminal investigation by the Justice Department and says his 75-page report "greatly underscores the urgent need for mine safety reform."
According to a summary of the report from Kennedy's office, the committee found that Murray Energy and its technical consultant, Agapito Associates, ignored the history of the mine's instability and did not make the right engineering assumption for the mine, while MSHA missed flaws in Agapito's analysis and did not submit plans to the agency's technical staff for review. The report says Murray Energy "ignored substantial evidence of instability during mining operation" and continued to mine for coal even in light of evidence there was danger near the north barrier, among several other conclusions.
The Mine Health and Safety Administration reminded Kennedy that the official investigation into the accident is still taking place.
"MSHA's Accident Investigation Team is preparing the official investigative report that will determine the root causes of this accident as well as the appropriate enforcement actions, including any criminal referrals," MSHA spokesman Matthew Faraci said via e-mail. "Until the MSHA Accident Report and the DOL Internal Review are concluded, speculation by Senator Kennedy's staff is inappropriate."
Michael O. McKown, general counsel of UtahAmerican Energy, Inc., a subsidy of Murray Energy that operates the mine, said the report "is politically motivated, irresponsible and unjustifiable."
"Mr. Murray and the company would never knowingly expose any employee to danger and he hasn't in his 50 years of experience," McKown said. "For anyone to imply otherwise is blatantly false. Once the facts are known, they will show that Mr. Murray deserves tremendous credit for his courage and leadership under very difficult conditions."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who sits on the HELP Committee with Kennedy, along with the committee's top Republican Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said Congress should "refrain from rushing to judgments based on incomplete and unofficial evidence."
"(Kennedy's) report is one of a number of inquiries that will shed light on the Crandall Canyon Mine tragedy," Hatch said. "I will weigh the opinions in his inquiry with the official findings in the Inspector General's and Mine Safety and Health Administration's official reports that are due to be released later this year. I'll further examine the findings in all the other ongoing reports on Crandall Canyon."Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, also said he would consider Kennedy's report but "will withhold any final conclusion until I have reviewed the official report from the Mine Safety and Health Administration."
For a pdf copy of the report, click on report.