GOV. Joe Manchinís response to the Sago Mine tragedy deserves praise on two counts. The first is his choice of Davitt McAteer as his special adviser in investigating the events that led to the deaths of 12 miners.McAteer, who is a former assistant secretary of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), is a respected authority and an independent voice. He will also consult with state officials involved in the investigation.Just as important, Manchin has announced he will hold open public hearings into the disaster and the miscommunication that gave false hope to the minersí families for three hours before they learned the truth.Part of McAteerís brief will be to recommend improvements to mine safety in the future. He has pledged to complete a report by July 1.
Under the Bush administration, MSHA and other federal agencies dealing with mine safety and environmental issues have been anything but open in their dealings with the media and the public, withholding documents that are supposed to be public and dragging their feet in complying with Freedom of Information Act requests.We strongly suspect that if more information had been available and if MSHA had been concentrating on enforcing the law rather than protecting the coal industry, the miners at Sago might still be alive today.Manchin has pledged that the miners will not have died in vain. Thatís a big order. It will take not only an honest, open inquiry but vigorous responses from all levels of government, and a fundamental shift in MSHAís methods, to fulfill. But as first steps, these measures are appropriate. Manchin has gotten it right.