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ICG calling lightning the cause of Sago

March 15, 2006

ICG’s release of “findings” in Sago disaster “unprecedented, reckless and premature,” UMWA says.

Release of an internal investigation by the International Coal Group(ICG) claiming that lightning caused the explosion at the Sago mine in Upshur County, W. Va., is “unprecedented, reckless and premature,” Cecil E. Roberts, International President of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) said today.

“This action does a disservice to the families of those who were killed at Sago,” Roberts said. “ICG even acknowledges that it doesn’t know how an electrical charge could have traveled from the surface to the mine and ignited the explosion. To publicize their unfounded conclusion now, well before the official investigation by federal and state experts is finished, is extremely reckless.”

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the State of West Virginia are continuing their investigation at the mine and have publicly said they have reached no conclusions about the cause of the explosion. “Material was removed from the mine just a few weeks ago so that it could be examined to see if there was evidence of a lightning strike,” Roberts said. “That examination has not been concluded yet. Other aspects of this investigation have not even begun, including the public hearings. ICG has drawn a lot of conclusions on its own without regard to the judgement of the experienced, impartial experts who are charged with finding out the causes of this tragedy.”

The UMWA’s safety experts can not recall a company issuing its own report prior to the release of an official report from federal and/or state investigators. “Responsible coal companies recognize the primacy of MSHA and state agencies in accident investigations,” Roberts said. “There is a reason companies aren’t allowed to investigate themselves in these kinds of instances, which is that they’ll do or say anything to limit their liability and point the blame somewhere else.

“I believe it’s fair to ask why ICG is leaping to this conclusion and publicizing its version now,” Roberts said. “ICG is essentially saying this was an act of God, and we all know you can’t sue God. One can make a case that this announcement is more about future litigation defense purposes that it is about actually shining a light of truth on what really happened.

“There are still many more unanswered questions here,” Roberts said. “The responsible thing for all parties to do is to assist the official investigation through to its completion, and not leap to unfounded conclusions before all the facts are in. The families of the Sago victims deserve no less.”

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