Reps. Nick J. Rahall and Alan Mollohan, both D-W.Va., have joined in the call for congressional leaders to convene hearings into the Sago Mine tragedy that killed 12 coal miners and hospitalized another.“The Congress must more vigorously exercise its oversight of the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The long list of citations issued by MSHA against the Sago Mine in Upshur County has been well publicized in the last few days,” Rahall and Mollohan wrote to Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.“How those violations were addressed and whether MSHA sufficiently followed up to ensure that those violations were being remedied are questions that beg scrutiny.”The letter to Boehner also criticized the Bush administration for withdrawing “17 standards to improve safety and health for miners” and for cutting MSHA’s budget.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., declined to sign that letter, but said, “We hoped for the best but now face the worst. Coal miners are the backbone of our state.“They are our heroes. We will wrap our arms around the families and friends of our lost miners to help them cope with this unbearable loss. I am going to play close attention to the investigations that the U.S. Department of Labor and the state of West Virginia will conduct,” Capito said.Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., said, “The miners in Upshur County were part of the West Virginia family. We grieve for those who died, and we pray for their families.“Each miner faces physical dangers with a knowledge that every other miner with him is his brother.... The men at the Sago mine were brothers. They worked together; they struggled together; and together today, they are with the Lord.”Mining families deserve answers about what happened at the Sago Mine, Byrd added.“One of the finest tributes we could pay to these families and their lost loved ones would be to take steps to help prevent other mining families from ever experiencing such pain,” Byrd said.Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said, “There are no words to express the deep sadness and anger I feel today for the families of the miners, their friends and for all of West Virginia....“It’s clear that what we thought was a miracle is, in the end, a terrible tragedy. We thank God that Randal McCloy, Jr., has survived,” Rockefeller said. “We must figure out what went wrong in the Sago Mine itself and where the company must answer for its safety record.”Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., and Major Owens, D-N.Y., also called for immediate congressional hearings about the Sago tragedy.Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee, said, “The fact that the Sago Mine had a long history of serious safety violations demands that Congress learn why more wasn’t done to keep these workers safe.”Under the Bush administration, Miller pointed out, MSHA cut its staff by 170, from 2,357 to 2,187 people.
MSHA inspects all the nation’s coal mines and hard-rock ore mines. The agency lost $4.9 million this year from last year’s budget, in figures adjusted for inflation.United Mine Workers of America President Cecil E. Roberts said Wednesday, “Our hearts and our prayers go out to the miners’ families, their loved ones and their communities....“This terrible event was made worse for the families by the inexplicable confusion regarding initial reports that 12 of the miners had been found alive,” Roberts said. “The UMWA strongly encourages the appropriate state and federal officials to investigate how this could have happened.”National Mining Association President Kraig R. Naasz, said, “The mining community joins with the nation today in mourning the tragic loss of life at the Sago Mine. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends and co-workers of those lost.”Naasz said the mining industry will also learn from any investigation conducted by state and federal mine enforcement officials.U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao expressed her condolences for the tragedy and also praised the “heroic efforts of the mine rescue teams and others who rushed to the scene and put their lives on the line.”
Rev. Michael J. Bransfield, bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, said, “Last night our hearts grieved to hear that one miner had died and rejoiced to hear that 12 miners had been found alive. Now our joy is diminished. We rejoice that one miner has survived and we grieve that 12 have died.“I ask all West Virginians to join me in praying that love, memories, belief in God and the support of their families and communities will help the families of these miners through this tragic time.”To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail or call 348-5164.