BECKLEY, W.Va., Sept. 23 (UPI) -- U.S. coalmining giant Massey Energy Co. asked a judge to stop investigators from forcing its employees to answer questions about a blast that killed 29 miners.
Massey of Richmond, Va., argued in a filing before Raleigh County, W.Va., Circuit Court the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration used the state Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training -- which is jointly investigating the April 5 Upper Big Branch mine explosion in Montcoal, W.Va., the worst U.S. mine disaster since 1970 -- to broaden its narrow subpoena power.
While MSHA can compel witnesses to testify at formal public hearings, the state can subpoena for private interviews. So the federal agency, realizing it had limited authority, asked the state to issue the subpoenas instead, Massey argued.
The state office "issued the subpoenas not to serve legitimate interests but to create for MSHA an opportunity to compel testimony in a non-public setting, which Congress has deemed to be an excessive or inappropriate authority and process for this federal agency," the filing cited by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette states.
The state and federal mining offices had no immediate comment.
Separately, a federal administrative judge ruled MSHA, part of the U.S. Labor Department, acted properly when it created protocols for Massey to follow to ensure the preservation of evidence during the MSHA's probe into the explosion.
Administrative Law Judge Margaret A. Miller in Charleston, W.Va., said MSHA's protocols were "rationally connected to safely conducting the accident investigation."
The U.S. Justice Department is also conducting a criminal investigation into the explosion.