The head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration says investigators are looking into allegations that Massey Energy illegally warns workers when safety inspectors arrive.
Relatives and colleagues of 29 miners killed in an explosion last month at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia made those allegations today at a House Education and Labor Committee hearing in Beckley, West Virginia.
Such warnings would violate federal mining regulations, and MSHA chief Joe Main says it's being evaluated as a potential crime by the Justice Department.
Democratic Congressman Jason Altmire (PA-04) of McCandless Township is a member of the House committee and told DUQ News that is was difficult to hear the testimony from the families because they were quite emotional in presenting their stories.
"In many cases what was most revealing, there were miners who had multiple times expressed their concerns (about ventilation problems in the mine).....miners who had written notes to their wives saying 'if things don't work out and I don't come back, I want you to take action. '"
Altmire says they heard testimony that safety concerns expressed to the mine's owner, Massey Energy, by veteran and younger miners were "brushed off" and as a result 29 miners lost their lives because nothing was done.
Altmire says the Mine Safety and Health Administration does not have the enforcement mechanisms it needs and the families of the victims want Congress to give the agency the power to shut down mines if they don't take corrective measures. Last year Massey was cited 500 times and this year 120 times before the April explosion.
On Monday, Massey reiterated earlier statements that it doesn't
put profits ahead of safety.