Crandall Canyon probe
House panel subpoenas Labor Department docs on Utah mine disaster
By Thomas Burr
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 09/24/2007 05:27:07 PM MDT
WASHINGTON - A House committee on Monday issued the first subpoena in the aftermath of the recent Utah mine disaster, compelling the Labor Department to turn over internal documents the committee has yet to receive voluntarily. House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., said in a statement that the subpoena came as a "last resort." The department has provided some documents to the committee but not any internal communications, committee staffers said. The Labor Department countered that it has given Miller's committee nearly 10,000 pages of documents it requested and everything it turned over to the department's independent inspector general. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Public Affairs, David James, issued a one-sentence response to the subpoena, saying that, "This political grandstanding is very disappointing in light of the department's extensive good-faith efforts to respond to the chairman's voluminous document request." Monday's subpoena demands copies of any documents from the Labor Department to the owners of the Crandall Canyon mine before and after the tragedy that killed nine men and injured six more in August. It also compels the department to provide internal documents regarding the Utah mine, any messages about it from other executive branch offices and communications related to the August request by the committee for those documents. Miller also demanded any documents reflecting communications between mine co-owner Bob Murray and department officials. The committee plans a hearing next week on the Utah mine tragedy, though the due date for subpoenaed documents isn't until a week later. Committee spokesman Tom Kiley said the panel would prefer to work together with the department to secure the requested documents, "but by failing to cooperate with us, the Labor Department has left us no choice but to subpoena the information." Kiley added that the committee intends to "conduct a comprehensive, independent investigation of the tragedy so that we can help learn what steps we can take to prevent future tragedies." The Labor Department said it provided a litany of documents, including all emergency response plans for every U.S. mine, the emergency response plan for the Crandall Canyon mine and all maps of the mine since 2004. The department also provided the roof control plan and the order taking control of the Crandall Canyon operation after the disaster. The subpoena comes a week after the Labor Department's inspector general asked for the House committee to back off its probe into the cave ins at the mine until the Mine Safety and Health Administration completed its inquiry. Acting Solicitor General Jonathon Snare told the committee in a letter that agency's ability to enforce the law and hold violators accountable could be hampered by parallel investigations. But Miller declined to hold off on his inquiry noting that his panel has jurisdiction to investigate the disaster; he did, however, say on Monday that his subpoena does not seek documents by the department's internal accident investigation team. Three congressional committees are investigating the mine disaster in rural Utah and two hearings are scheduled next week looking at mine safety nationwide. The Senate Health, Education and Pensions Committee earlier this month requested a load of documents from the Labor Department. The House labor committee asked for similar documents and also sent a request to the mine's co-owner, Murray Energy, asking for internal company documents on the mine's operations. Six miners were trapped after a cave in Aug. 6 in the Crandall Canyon mine, and three rescue workers were killed and six more injured trying to reach those miners. Rescue efforts were suspended soon after and the original six are now entombed in the mine with no immediate plan to recover their bodies.