- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Bureau of Land Management inspectors noted serious structural problems that they feared could cause the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah to collapse — three years before the deadly August accident, Congress was told yesterday.

However, the government’s mine safety office didn’t know about the bureau’s concerns until after the accident, Kevin Stricklin, a coal mine safety administrator for the office, testified during a Senate hearing.

The Labor Department oversees the mine safety office and approved the Crandall Canyon mining plan. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which oversees how much coal is mined from public land, is governed by the Interior Department.

“This is like the CIA not getting information from the FBI when we’re getting attacked by terrorists,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, whose committee is investigating the oversight of the mine by the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

Six miners trapped during the Aug. 6 cave-in at the mine are presumed dead, entombed 1,500 feet below ground. Three rescuers were killed in a second collapse on Aug. 16.

About 30 of the victims’ family members attended the hearing by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, sometimes wiping away tears or holding their heads in their hands. They declined to talk to reporters afterward.

Some of the family members are expected to testify at a House hearing today.

Lawmakers have said they are skeptical that the government did everything it could to prevent the accident. They also have questioned why BLM, but not the mine safety department, noticed the problems at Crandall Canyon.

The committee released documents showing that a BLM inspector noted in November 2004 that pillars of coal, which were holding up the mine’s roof, were failing.

The inspector, Stephen Falk, said further mining by pulling out the pillars would be “untenable” and “wishful thinking” in hopes of extending the mine’s life.

“Mining any of the coal in the pillars will result in hazardous mining conditions such as pillar bursts and roof falls,” Mr. Falk wrote.

Under questioning, Mr. Stricklin said the report would have been helpful and could have shaped the agency’s decision to allow mining at Crandall Canyon.

Mr. Falk’s report was intended for internal use only, Mr. Kennedy’s spokeswoman said.

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