Why not mining investigation transparency?


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.