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Who has the right to interview witnesses after a coal mine disaster such as the April 5 blast in West Virginia?
A federal judge has been asked to answer that question after the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) made a motion for the court to dismiss a lawsuit over its request to privately interview witnesses to the coal mine disaster at the Upper Big Branch mine. The lawsuit was brought by the United Mine Workers of America seeking access to the interviews that MSHA will conduct with witnesses.
MSHA argues that the court lacks jurisdiction to rule on the request made by the United Mine Workers of America to privately interview witnesses. MSHA argues that no outside party may control or otherwise direct investigations into the coal mine disaster.
As reported by the Associated Press, the union and relatives of miners William Griffith and Ronald Maynor have requested a court order allowing them to observe the interviews by MSHA. This is a point of contention for MSHA because they believe that the plaintiffs are only entitled witnesses' statements after they have been provided. If other parties are allowed to participate, it could reduce the quality of the information provided. MSHA director Joe Main argues in his motion to dismiss that UMW and their families have no legal basis for their request:
Subordinating MSHA's investigative powers to private interests would be disastrous to the investigative process and make a mockery of Congress' mandate to MSHA.
The lawsuit comes as the fallout from the coal mine disaster continues. The April 5 coal mine disaster was the worst in 40 years. Twenty-nine men were killed at the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal. The exact cause is still not known, although federal regulators have identified explosive gas or coal dust as likely causes.