Why not mining investigation transparency?

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Ken Ward, Jr. at The Charleston Gazette asks an important question: Why not make investigations into mining disasters open to the public?

Why not Web cast the interviews? Why not quickly make transcripts available publicly on the Internet. And why not hold periodic press briefings where detailed information about what has been found so far is made public?

All of the secrecy might make sense, if MSHA and state officials didn’t almost always allow coal company lawyers to sit in on the interviews. The only good argument for secrecy in these interviews is that allowing openness tips off the company to the direction investigators are headed, allowing them to thwart things like potential criminal prosecution down the road.

But if the company lawyers are in the room, well, what’s the point of the secrecy?

This is one instance where transparency would create the kind of accountability we expect. We are used to seeing executives hauled before congressional committees to testify about violations, corporate practices or harmful products and getting scolded by a series of lawmakers who seem more interested in posturing for cameras or appealing to their district than to actually investigating an issue. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) investigators and regulators don’t need to get reelected, so I sincerely doubt there would be any need to engage in the type of political gesticulating that goes on in congressional committees.

That being said, Ward lays out the best possible reason to make these proceedings transparent: mining company lawyers are already privvy to the proceedings and documents in the case. If the target of the investigation is the only outside group with knowledge of the investigatory proceedings, what is the point of hiding them from everyone else? Here is one instance where the administration’s commitment to transparency could lead to changes in the behavior of federal regulators and the companies who violate regulations.

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  • One good reason to televise the investigation is to expose the details to class-action plaintiff lawyers. In the event that the investigation reveals corporate culpability, redress for the workers can be achieved by litigation taken on their behalf. Workers usually have less resources to finance litigation than the corporation. Exposing the facts of the case as determined by the investigation would allow plaintiff-law firms (which take cases on contingency based on their estimation as to the probability of victory) to quickly and at a low cost determine whether this is a case that they would be willing to finance until a final judgment. Accordingly, transparency in this case would play a role in raising the cost of non-compliance with health and safety regulations in the future.

  • BrokenArrow

    Televise the entire trial. Then, let us all view when Blankenship gets his sentence. Hopefully, he’ll be intercepted, and embrace the same fate as Mussolini.

    If this is not transparent, and let’s face it, the dark forces seem to be winning hand over fist, it’s just another sign that, “we the people,” are totally screwed.

    My deepest, heartfelt sympathy to all those who perished, and to the families, who now must live out this life sans fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, and friends. A true American tragedy.

  • There is absolutely no reason to secretly hold this investigation. The current administrations ideal of “clean coal” could take a beating and the owner/operator of the various mines across the country sure stand to have their bloody hands revealed, along with the politicians that aid and abet them. We had to sit still and wait for the outcome of the mine disaster the last time in Utah and no meaningful retribution was meted out.

    There is a decided advantage to being rich and powerful. The current uproar regarding the sexual abuse which has taken place in the Catholic Church, for years attests to this. Being able to buy the brand of judge who will look with favor on your misdeeds, thus publicly cleaning the stench off your reputation is a definite advantage. The mining industry has used newer technologies to update their operations, I would suspect, after being forced by watchdog agencies, but the old mentality of disposable miners remains the same.

  • It is pretty obvious that even the Democrats have been lax in laying down the law regarding violations and they are up against a gangster mine owner, Blankenship, who paid out $3 1/2 million of his own money to have a State Supreme Court Justice elected. That Justice then threw out a ruling against this guy in the lower courts, allowing him to get away with not paying a large fine for safety violations. This guy has so little regard for the miner’s or their families, he even announced the closing of the mine and the transfer of some of the remaining miners to other mines he owns, so they can work longer hours and produce more coal. I believe Blankenship also is taking advantage of the fact that the miner’s families are very religious and seem to accept what happens to them as the will of God, letting Blankenship off the hook.