Will the Justice Department Prosecute Company Linked to Mine Deaths?

May 9th, 2008 by Phil Mattera

Too many members of Congress behave as if they were corporate lobbyists who just happen to be on the public payroll. One outstanding exception to that tendency is Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who has been a consistent champion of the not-so-monied interests, especially workers. Yesterday, Miller, who serves as chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, announced that he has asked the Justice Department to initiate a criminal investigation of the general manager of the Crandall Canyon Mine near Huntington, Utah, where nine miners were killed in two accidents last August. (The official federal fatality reports are here and here.)

Miller based his request on the results of an investigation conducted by his committee, which found evidence that the mine manager, Laine W. Adair, had concealed the full story of a previous collapse of the mine involving the same technique—retreat mining—that was linked to last summer’s deaths. Had the Mine Safety and Health Administration been given a complete account of the earlier accident, Miller argued, the mine might have been barred from continuing to use the technique.

In Miller’s referral letter to the Attorney General, he notes that Adair has vowed to invoke the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination if he is forced to testify before the committee, as have other officials of the mine’s corporate owner, Murray Energy, including CEO Robert Murray, who has “argued” that an earthquake caused the collapse at his mine.

It remains to be seen how the Justice Department responds to Miller’s request, which just happened to be announced the same week that the national hiatus on the death penalty came to an end with the execution of a convicted murderer in Georgia. When will this country exhibit the same blood lust for punishing corporate killers as it has for individual ones?

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