Ken Ward, Jr. points to a statement by Sen. Jay Rockefeller calling for Senate hearings on the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster and asks if Rockefeller or other West Virginia lawmakers will call for an open Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) investigation:
Will members of West Virginia’s congressional delegation take the important step of demanding that MSHA and the state hold this investigation out in the open, so everyone can see what is said, what questions were asked, and why 29 men had to die?
And if they do and MSHA refuses, will the delegation force Congress to convene field hearings that will serve that same purpose?
Rockefeller would like to convene hearings in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP). This report from MapLight.org highlights another reason to call for open MSHA hearings in addition to congressional hearings. The mining industry has showered HELP Committee members with campaign contributions over the years:
Members of the Senate HELP Committee received 122 percent more from the mining interests than from the unions (see table below). Only three Committee members represent states that have a significant mining industry. Sen. Murray received more than twice as much money from mining interests than any other Democrat on the committee, although her state of Washington is not ranked as a top mining industry state.
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.