by Ken Ward Jr., cross-posted from CoalTattoo

There’s been no formal announcement yet today from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration about how it plans to proceed in its investigation of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster — no word on public hearings or opening up the interviews to the victims’ families or taking any other steps to make this process more transparent.

But the information I’ve received so far from various sources is that this is the plan:

– MSHA will continue its general practice of conducting investigation interviews behind closed doors.

– The United Mine Workers union — designed as miners’ representative under the Mine Act by several Upper Big Branch workers — will not be allowed in the room for interviews unless the specific miner being questioned has designated the union as his representative.

– Miners and mine employees being questioned will be allowed a “personal representative” in the room with them for their interviews — meaning if miners are convinced to appoint the company lawyers as their representatives, the company lawyers get in the room.

– Family members of the miners killed in the disaster will not be allowed into the interviews — and neither will their lawyers.

– Investigators from the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training will be allowed in the room, as will officials from special investigator Davitt McAteer’s team.

– At some point later, MSHA will conduct a “public hearing” in which company officials, miners and inspectors chosen by MSHA will answer questions in a public setting. Apparently, only agency investigators will do the questioning.  Unlike McAteer’s public hearing on the Sago Mine disaster, family members of the victims will not be allowed to ask questions.

– There is no plan currently for making public any of the transcripts of the interviews until after the entire investigation is completed — and even then, some of these documents might be withheld if releasing them would conflict with any ongoing criminal investigation.

I’m told last night’s meeting between MSHA and family members of the miners did not go especially well, and got pretty heated … perhaps we’ll be hearing more about all of this — and getting some announcement from MSHA — later today.

Ken Ward, Jr. is a a reporter for the Charleston Gazette (since 1991), has won numerous awards for his investigative writing on worker safety and health, and is the chairman of the Society of Environmental Journalist’s First Amendment Taskforce.

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