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United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts Hails State, Congressional Investigations into Sago Disaster

date: 
January 10, 2006

United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts said today that West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin's announcement yesterday of a state investigation into the Sago disaster "is a first step in the right direction of improving coal mine safety in the wake of this terrible disaster."

Roberts applauded Gov. Manchin's selection of Davitt McAteer to head the West Virginia investigation, saying, "Mr. McAteer has the experience to undertake this critical investigation, and the UMWA believes he has the determination to pursue this investigation wherever it may lead. That's exactly what is needed here." The state investigation will be held in conjunction with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). MSHA and Gov. Manchin announced yesterday that the investigation will include a public hearing, which is a rarity in coal mine accident investigations.

"The public hearing can be a beneficial part of this investigation," Roberts said. "But what is going to be most important for the public and for coal miners to know as a result of this investigation is that mine safety and health regulations will be strictly enforced at every mine in the United States. MSHA and the state mine safety agencies must view these regulations as requirements for companies to follow, not mere suggestions."

Roberts also said that the announcement by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) that a U. S. Senate Appropriations subcommittee will hold a hearing next week on the disaster "will help us all understand what happened at this mine, so that we can do whatever needs to be done to ensure that no family will ever again have to go through what the families of the Sago miners had to endure.

"Sen. Byrd, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the chair of the subcommittee and Sen. Tom Harkin, the ranking member, all have a long-term commitment to coal miners and their health and safety," Roberts said. "I have confidence that with them taking the lead, we will get answers and we will begin the process of working towards real, enforceable solutions."

Roberts added that it is critical for the UMWA to be an integral part of both the state and congressional inquiries. "We have the expertise and experience within our union to make a significant contribution to the investigation and the recommendations that come out of this. Our Director of Occupational Health and Safety, Dennis O'Dell, has years of experience with mine safety issues and was on-site at the Sago mine during the rescue efforts while our UMWA mine rescue teams were involved. There is no one better qualified to be a strong voice for the safety of miners during this investigation than Dennis."

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