Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 5, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

BURYING THE EVIDENCE....More from Ellen Smith, editor of Mine Safety and Health News:


It will be a long time before we know what happened at Sago. It will also be a long time before we know anything about the role (or lack thereof) of the Mine Safety and Health Agency in the accident. Why? Because MSHA no longer makes available to the public its own internal investigations on accidents and the role of MSHA and its inspectors leading up to the accident. The last time MSHA conducted an internal investigation, the Assistant Secretary announced that serious deficiencies had been found with MSHA inspections and that appropriate actions had been taken but the public was not allowed to view the report to read what those deficiencies were or what changes were being made to avoid similar problems in the future. It's not only internal reviews that MSHA has cut back on. The agency is even holding back accident investigation elements that used to be considered matters of public record, such as interview transcripts, rock dust samples, inspector notes and MSHA-approved mine plans. Claiming interference with law enforcement, the agency now holds these records back at least until it issues its final report and has claimed the right to withhold these records until all possibility of litigation has been exhausted possibly many years later.

MSHA does occasionally release such records early but only when it wants to, as it did with selected photos in the Quecreek investigation.

It's worth noting that we're talking here about factual records, not conclusions or opinions. The agency used to release such discrete factual items even during an investigation, including non-confidential interview transcripts after all interviews were complete and release of the information could not influence witnesses' memories. Pledges of confidentiality, of course, were always honored, but rarely requested by interviewees.

Examples of the traditional practice: the Wilberg fire of 1984, the Southmountain explosion of 1992, and the 2000 Martin County inundation.

As a result of this change, concerned individuals outside MSHA now have no chance to examine the evidence and draw their own conclusions until MSHA has released its own conclusions and maybe not even then. MSHA followed this new withholding practice in 2001 in the case of the explosions at the JWR mine in Alabama and interestingly, key results of that investigation were later thrown out in court.

Return to the former policy woud be right, healthy and help keep the government up to the mark via greater public scrutiny.

Kevin Drum 1:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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Comments

Return to the former policy woud be right, healthy and help keep the government up to the mark via greater public scrutiny.

Kevin, you are living in a dream world.

Under Bush/Cheney, the government of the United States is adamantly opposed to any public scrutiny of any government decisions.

The congress is not going to do anything about it.

The corporate press/media is not really fighting the government on this as a matter of policy, even though there have been a few lawsuits filed against the government by press/media with respect to specific stories.

The American people don't care enough to make an issue of public scrutiny and political accountability.

MSHA is just telling us what any agency or person would tell us if they could get away with it: "You will get nothing and you will like it."

Posted by: James E. Powell on January 5, 2006 at 1:45 AM | PERMALINK

Just like in the Abramoff scandal for which the conventional wisdome has already become that it's a Washington problem (see, e.g., today's piece in WaPo by Richard Cohen) and not a vivid exampke of Republican moral bankruptcy and ethical corruption, someone will come out with the claim that even Clinton did not pay attention to MSHA either.

Posted by: lib on January 5, 2006 at 2:01 AM | PERMALINK

Well, so much for USC....


Posted by: Canid on January 5, 2006 at 2:20 AM | PERMALINK

With all due respect to Professor DeLong, I would tend to blame this not just on the corruption of the Chimp, but also on the free traders like DeLong.

Free Trade (not fair trade) is the race to the bottom. All of those mine regulations were not only taking from the taxpayer but also making mining more expensive and the products more expensive. To better compete against nations that do not have safety regulations, it is required for the US to gut these regulations.

What is the free trader argument for MSHA, OSHA, NHTSA, FDA, FCC, etc.?

Posted by: jerry on January 5, 2006 at 2:57 AM | PERMALINK

I'm a broken record, but government that defaults towards openess is the next liberal revolution.

Posted by: Boronx on January 5, 2006 at 3:26 AM | PERMALINK

Just read this mine was cited for safety violations 273 times over the past two years. That's better than once every 2 and a half days.

Posted by: cld on January 5, 2006 at 4:03 AM | PERMALINK

Don't these fools realize the trap they're digging for themselves by keeping everything secret? Things will stop working. Bad situations will get worse. Eventually, terrible things will happen again and again.

Do they think they're immune to consequences? (Don't answer that!)

Posted by: bad Jim on January 5, 2006 at 4:45 AM | PERMALINK

Every few years an event occurs that reminds people how boring government activities, like levee-construction or mine safety inspection, has a vital role to play in saving human lives. In the last four months we've had two such events: Katrina and Sago. In the aftermath there's a lot of hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth and promises to do better. But then we forget all that and drift back into "starve-the-beast". I guess you could do all kinds of analysis as to why this is the case, but it really comes down to stupidity.

Posted by: BC on January 5, 2006 at 5:58 AM | PERMALINK

I'm betting that this has a lot to do with just how much Bush hates trial lawyers.

Releasing facts to the public (how shocking!) is an invitation for some lawyer to use those facts against a Bush campaign contributor.

Posted by: Jim Ramsey on January 5, 2006 at 6:23 AM | PERMALINK

From a trial lawyer perspective, the problem is that no other independent investigators will be allowed access to the mine to gather evidence, and even if they do gain access by court order after litigation is filed, it will be so late in the process that valuable evidence will no longer exist.

Therefore, the only timely, relevant evidence will be in the hands of the MSHA, and it's being withheld until all possibilities of litigation are over.

This is about one thing and one thing only: the cover up of negligence and wrongdoing, and obstructing lawyers for the affected families from finding the truth.

But hey, gotta save this country (and Republican campaign contributors) from those damn trial lawyers.

Posted by: Paul on January 5, 2006 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

Will the tragic deaths of the miners, in a Triangle Shirtwaist Factory kind of way, prod the public to embrace reform and reform-minded politicians?

Posted by: OwnedByTwoCats on January 5, 2006 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

All we need is for TBrosz tell us how we will all be very surprised when the facts finally come out in, oh say, 30 or 40 years from now.

John Llewellyn Lewis, we need you once again. You were a giant at the UMWA. Oh, for a reincarnation of this fighter for his workers. Two great men share a birthday of February 12 - Lincoln and Lewis - two giants.

Can just see the vermin of management trying desparately to get the families to abrogate their rights with a quick "Good Hands People" cash settlement. They will be out in droves "throwin' bones".

Posted by: thethirdPaul on January 5, 2006 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

歌手,歌星 star, actor

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Posted by: 歌手 on January 5, 2006 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: 歌手 on January 5, 2006 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

JAMES E. POWELL
VERY WELL STATED AND YOU SPEAK THE TRUTH.
IT IS THE GOVERNMENT AND MINE OWNERS THAT
HAS A FORKED TOUNGES. I WOULD BET THAT YOU
REMEMBER JOHN L. LEWIS AND MINERS OF YEARS
GONE BY AND PROBABLY THE COMPANY STORE.
THOSE WERE REALLY THE BAD DAYS .
BRASS MONKEY

Posted by: BRASS MONKEY on January 5, 2006 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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