Capito asks for hearings into Sago Mine disaster

By The West Virginia Record | Jan 12, 2006

Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito

Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has asked a congressional committee to investigate the events surrounding the explosion that killed 12 workers and severely injured another at the Sago Mine in Upshur County.

In a letter to House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner, Capito asked that the investigation focus on the cause of the explosion and ways to prevent similar incidents, whether the federal government adequately enforced safety regulations in the lead up to the incident, and the response of both government agencies and the mining company in the aftermath of explosion.

Here's the full text of Capito's letter:

January 5, 2006

Dear Chairman Boehner:

As you are aware, a major mining disaster occurred on January 2, 2006 at International Mining Groups Sago Mine in my district killing twelve miners and severely injuring another. I am writing to ask that the Education and Workforce Committee hold hearings to investigate several important elements both before the accident and in its aftermath.

First and foremost, hearings should focus on why an explosion occurred in the Sago mine and how a similar tragedy can be prevented in the future. In 2005, the Sago mine was cited for hundreds of safety violations. The investigation and hearings should determine what role these violations played in causing the disaster and if the violations were being rectified.

The fines levied by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) at the Sago mine in 2005 ranged from $60 to $847 per violation. As you know, MSHA has the authority to impose much more substantial monetary penalties or force a mine to cease operations to correct violations of mine safety regulations. It is crucial that we know whether the federal government adequately performed its oversight role and used its authority to penalize the mines owner for violations and to force major safety problems to be corrected.

I am also concerned about the events at the mine during the rescue and recovery. At the Sago mine, officials from the coal company were responsible for briefing the press. The well publicized result was that misinformation about the number of survivors spread throughout the Tallmansville community and into the national media, giving families the false assurance that their loved ones were safe.

It is crucial that we evaluate how disaster scenes like the one in Upshur County, WV should operate so that various rescue teams are properly organized and so that information provided to families and the public is timely and accurate. The protocol used by officials in responding to a major disaster must be evaluated closely. A critical part of this protocol should be the coordination of federal, state, and local officials along with the private company in communicating with families and with the media so that false information does not cause added pain to already suffering people.

In the wake of the Sago disaster, it is incumbent upon Congress to consider how we can better prevent future mining accidents and how government agencies can best handle a major mining disaster if one occurs. The circumstances surrounding this tragedy cry out for congressional oversight and we owe it to the victims and their families to provide this oversight without regard to politics.

I ask that you schedule hearings before your committee on these important issues at the earliest possible date. Thank you for your attention to this important issue.

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