In a corporate statement released today, coal company Massey Energy criticized President Barack Obama for saying that “owners responsible for conditions in the Upper Big Branch mine should be held accountable for decisions they made and preventive measures they failed to take.” Massey called the President’s remarks “regrettable,” and say that Mr. Obama “has been misinformed.”
Today’s statements by the White House about the Upper Big Branch tragedy are regrettable. We fear that the President has been misinformed about our record and the mining industry in general.
As to our record, we note that in 2009, under this administration, MSHA presented Massey Energy with three “Sentinels of Safety” Awards – the highest number of such awards ever received by one company in a single year.
There has been criticism regarding the backlog of violations that have been appealed. There have been violations at Upper Big Branch that the Company does not agree with and a number of those violations have been appealed. The percentage of violations appealed at UBB and Massey is similar to that for the industry as a whole.
The enormous backlog of appeals waiting to be heard has been frustrating to all involved. We urge Congress to appropriate the funds necessary to enable this system to work better by helping government regulators to resolve the enormous backlog at MSHA. Regardless of the backlog, however, it’s important to understand that all violations must be fixed and are fixed to the satisfaction of state and federal agencies before mines are allowed to continue operating. Most violations are fixed the same day they are discovered.
Massey believes in safety, accountability and responsibility. We seek the truth in the ongoing investigations and are cooperating with federal and state agencies to determine the cause of the tragic accident at Upper Big Branch Mine. Unfortunately, some are rushing to judgment for political gain or to avoid blame. Our goal is to communicate transparently as the facts unfold.
Today, President Barack Obama discussed the initial findings of an investigation by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Mine Safety and Health Administration chief Joe Main, and MSHA Administrator for Coal Mine Safety and Health Kevin Stricklin:
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. On April 5th, the United States suffered the worst mine disaster in more than a generation. Twenty-nine lives were lost. Families have been devastated. Communities have been upended. And during this painful time, all of us are mourning with the people of Montcoal and Whitesville and Naoma and the Coal River Valley. The people of West Virginia are in our prayers.
But we owe them more than prayers. We owe them action. We owe them accountability. We owe them an assurance that when they go to work every day, when they enter that dark mine, they are not alone. They ought to know that behind them there is a company that’s doing what it takes to protect them, and a government that is looking out for their safety.
In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, I asked the officials standing with me – Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, and Joe Main and Kevin Stricklin with the Mine Safety and Health Administration – to lead an investigation into what caused the explosion at Massey Energy Company’s Upper Big Branch mine. I asked them to report back with preliminary findings this week.
We just concluded a meeting, where they briefed me on their investigation. I want to emphasize that this investigation is ongoing, and there’s still a lot that we don’t know. But we do know that this tragedy was triggered by a failure at the Upper Big Branch mine—a failure first and foremost of management, but also a failure of oversight and a failure of laws so riddled with loopholes that they allow unsafe conditions to continue.
So today I’ve directed Secretary Solis, Assistant Secretary Main, and Administrator Stricklin to work closely with state mining officials to press ahead with this investigation—so we can help make sure a disaster like this never happens again. Owners responsible for conditions in the Upper Big Branch mine should be held accountable for decisions they made and preventive measures they failed to take. And I’ve asked Secretary Solis to work with the Justice Department to ensure that every tool in the federal government is available in this investigation.
But this isn’t just about a single mine. It’s about all of our mines. The safety record at the Massey Upper Big Branch mine was troubling. And it’s clear that while there are many responsible companies, far too many mines aren’t doing enough to protect their workers’ safety.