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Inquiry is sought into mine deaths

May 09, 2008|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors should open a criminal investigation into the deaths of nine people in a Utah mine collapse last year, Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) said Thursday.

Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said in a memo to the panel that he had made a criminal referral to the Justice Department.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration is still investigating the two cave-ins that killed six miners and three rescuers.

"I was concerned that the mine operator may have willfully misled MSHA about information that could have affected MSHA's decision to approve the mining plans," Miller said.

The U.S. attorney's office in Utah said Thursday that it would take Miller's request "very seriously."

A representative of the mining company called Miller's announcement "deplorable."

"There is no credible basis for Mr. Miller's reckless allegations," said Kevin N. Anderson, a lawyer for Genwal Resources Inc., owned by Murray Energy Corp. "They are merely political grandstanding."

Mine Safety and Health Administration spokesman Matthew Faraci said it would be "premature and speculative" to comment on Miller's report.

The House committee's ranking Republican, Howard "Buck" McKeon of Santa Clarita, said there was little new in Miller's report and officials should wait until the agency finished its investigation.

UtahAmerican Energy Inc., a subsidiary of Murray Energy, owns the mine.

Miller said UtahAmerican Energy failed to correctly report a March 2007 "bump" -- where a pillar or series of pillars holding the mine roof burst -- in another section of the mine. After that accident, plans to work in the area where the miners died should never have been approved, Miller said.

He wants the Justice Department to investigate the mine's general manager, Laine W. Adair, and others.

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