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3/16/2006

UMWA: Sago lightning excuse is premature and reckless






By Doug Cunningham
Workers Independent News

The United Mine Workers of America says an attempt by the Sago mine owners to blame lightning for the explosion that led to the deaths of 12 West Virginia coal miners is reckless and premature. UMWA's Phil Smith says this is NOT an official finding.

[Phil Smith 1] : "It is important to note that this is ICG investigating itself. These folks have a vested interest in pointing the finger somewhere else besides what their own actions may have done to cause this explosion. You know, if it was lightning then that's an act of God. And you can't sue God."

The UMWA has been involved in the investigation into the Sago tragedy, making sure workers have a voice in the probe. Smith says the UMWA will also be involved in the next phase - public hearings.

[Smith 2] : "What is important here is that we find out what caused this explosion so it doesn't happen again at Sago or anywhere else. And also what we hope comes out of this is a series of recommendations for what can be done to prevent in the first place explosions like this from happening. And in the second place prevent what was really tragic about this, which was those miners being trapped in there - or believing that they were trapped in there - and being able to come out, not being able to survive except for Mr. McCloy."

The Sago mine reopened Wednesday.
____________________________________________________________________________

The following is the UMWA's official press release regarding the International Coal Group's excuse:

ICG ‘s release of “findings” in Sago disaster “unprecedented, reckless andpremature,” UMWA says

The release of an internal investigation by the International Coal Group(ICG) claiming that lightning caused the explosion at the Sago mine inUpshur 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 anelectrical charge could have traveled from the surface to the mine andignited the explosion. To publicize their unfounded conclusion now, wellbefore 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 havepublicly said they have reached no conclusions about the cause of the explosion. “Material was removed from the mine just a few weeks ago so thatit could be examined to see if there was evidence of a lightning strike,”Roberts said. “That examination has not been concluded yet. Other aspects ofthis investigation have not even begun, including the public hearings. ICG has drawn a lot of conclusions on its own without regard to the judgement ofthe experienced, impartial experts who are charged with finding out thecauses of this tragedy.”

The UMWA’s safety experts can not recall a company issuing its own reportprior to the release of an official report from federal and/or state investigators. “Responsible coal companies recognize the primacy of MSHA andstate agencies in accident investigations,” Roberts said.

“There is a reason companies aren’t allowed to investigate themselves in these kinds ofinstances, 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 andpublicizing 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 casethat this announcement is more about future litigation defense purposes thatit 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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