Huntsman wants feds to share Crandall Canyon Mine data
By Lisa Riley Roche
Deseret Morning News
September 28, 2007
When Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. testifies before Congress next week, along with family members of the miners killed at the Crandall Canyon Mine, he'll ask again for the federal government to share information on its investigation into the disaster.
"I'm concerned," the governor said during his monthly press conference on KUED Channel 7 Thursday, the day after he was notified the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration would be withholding information from the state's new mine safety commission.
He said he'll bring up the issue with members of the House Education and Labor Committee when he testifies next Wednesday. The hearing on "the perspective of the families at Crandall Canyon" also will include testimony from miners' relatives.
Huntsman created the commission in the wake of the Aug. 6 mine collapse, near Huntington in Emery County, that left six miners dead and later claimed the lives of three rescuers. Six other rescuers were injured in the second accident, on Aug. 16.
The commission, charged with recommending what, if any, role the state should have in regulating mine safety, sought to review information collected in the ongoing federal investigation.
But in a letter sent to the governor and the commission chairman, Scott Matheson Jr., the U.S. Department of Labor expressed "grave concerns" about making that information available because a trade association representative serves on the commission.
That could jeopardize the federal government's investigation into the incident because the association represents Crandall Canyon Mine owner Robert Murray, according to the letter written by Jonathan Snare, the Labor Department's acting solicitor.
Huntsman said Thursday he saw no need to remove the association representative he named to the commission, Utah Mining Association President David Litvin.
"I don't think we're going to have to go that far. I don't think that's necessarily a material point here," the governor said. "Whenever you have a working group, it's important to achieve a balance."
Huntsman had already said he'd received assurances from Richard Stickler, the assistant secretary of labor in charge of MSHA, that the information collected by federal investigators would be made available to the commission.
"I think there ought to be a much closer working relationship between MSHA and our state mine safety commission," the governor said. "That isn't working for whatever reason and that's against certain assurances I've had early on that we would be working collaboratively."
The governor said he understands some information may need to be "compartmentalized for reasons that are based on a criminal investigation or something that would otherwise be highly sensitive."
But, he said, his commission still needs to receive "real time briefings" on the investigation.
Next Wednesday's hearing will be the first before a House committee. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee also has a hearing on the mine accident planned for Tuesday, when it will hear from Stickler and other witnesses.
A Senate Appropriations Subcommittee heard from Stickler about the mine collapse on Sept. 5, and the committee did not rule out issuing a subpoena to Murray, the mine owner and Murray Energy chief, if he failed to address Congress.