Mine Disaster Probe Finds Intimidation, False Papers A federal investigation of last year's deadly explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine finds choosing safety over production was a firing offense. It also reported alleged instances of falsification of official safety reports.
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Mine Disaster Probe Finds Intimidation, False Papers

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Mine Disaster Probe Finds Intimidation, False Papers

Mine Disaster Probe Finds Intimidation, False Papers

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

NPR's Howard Berkes is in Beckley, West Virginia, where investigators presented an of a year-long probe.

HOWARD BERKES: Kevin Stricklin is the coal mine safety chief at the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

KEVIN STRICKLIN: It's not a problem for a mine operator if they want to keep more than one set of books. That's their prerogative. But what they have to do is record the hazards that are associated with any examination underground in the official record book. And we found that wasn't the case here.

BERKES: Stricklin also says his investigators documented a pattern of intimidation at Upper Big Branch.

STRICKLIN: Upper management threatened to fire frontline supervisors for not meeting production goals. Safety hazards such as insufficient air were not acceptable excuses for not running coal. A section foreman was fired for delaying production for about an hour to fix ventilation problems. One of the victims was told if you can't go up there to run coal, just bring your bucket outside and go home.

BERKES: His widow Gina Jones told me last night that Dean resisted the pressure to ignore safety.

GINA JONES: Because I told him to. I said they don't live your life. You know, they don't care about you. I said you've got family. I said worry about yourself and your men.

BERKES: Clay Mullins is worried more about the mine safety agency itself. Mullins lost his brother Rex at Upper Big Branch.

CLAY MULLINS: It's MSHA's job and the state's job to enforce the law and make sure that Massey does their job. And all three of them failed at their job. If they had enforced the laws that they had then, we wouldn't be here sitting and talking because this accident would not have happened.

BERKES: These waves of information were difficult last night for Bobbie Pauley, a coal miner herself, who lost her fiance, Boone Payne, when Upper Big Branch exploded.

BOBBIE PAULEY: Because I kept thinking, you know, you've waited over a year. You wanted answers. Tonight you're going to get them. But then another side of me said I don't want to know because it brings it all back, you know, right in your face.

BERKES: Howard Berkes, NPR News, Beckley, West Virginia.

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