"MSHA Blocked Questions About Previous UBB Methane Incidents"

"CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- U.S. Labor Department officials blocked an independent state team investigating the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster from digging into questions about the federal government's response to earlier incidents where methane leaked from the Raleigh County operation's mine floor, newly disclosed records show."

"Agency lawyer Derek Baxter, a member of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration's disaster investigation team, said the questions were inappropriate and tried to keep his objections to them from appearing in the public record of MSHA's probe of the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in nearly 40 years.

'I want to go off the record right now,' Baxter said when pressed to explain why questions from a member of the independent investigation team about MSHA's actions were improper.

Details of Baxter's actions surfaced this week in investigative interview transcripts made public by MSHA after the release of the agency's long-awaited report on the April 5, 2010, explosion that killed 29 workers.

Investigations by MSHA, the independent team led by Davitt McAteer, and the United Mine Workers have agreed that serious, pervasive and widespread violations of basic safety standards by Massey were the root causes of the Upper Big Branch disaster."

Ken Ward Jr. reports for the Charleston Gazette December 8, 2011.

Source: Charleston Gazette, 12/09/2011