West Virginia Mine Disaster Investigation to Take Months, But Congress Will Act

President Obama was much more blistering in his attack on Massey Energy Company than anyone from the West Virginia congressional delegation was ready to be on Thursday, as the members met with federal officials from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, who hosted the meeting, made it clear a thorough investigation of the Upper Big Branch mine, where 29 workers died, will take "perhaps a considerable number of months" - possibly six to 10 months - to determine the cause, and that before then, it's not possible to know what actually caused the deadly explosion.

Rockefeller and other members of the delegation had nothing but praise for MSHA head Joe Main and administrator Kevin Strickland, who briefed the members for about an hour, saying of their investigation, "To me, it's being utterly professionally handled."

Main said the investigation is at "the early stages," and that,"We fully intend to turn over every rock, pursue every lead, and make a thorough investigation." Main added that there are "a lot of things we don't know yet, a lot of things we know what to look for," and said it would be "a number of months before we're at a position to announce our findings," a typical length of time as measured against past disasters, he said.

Rockefeller made it clear he would not wait for the end of the investigation to draft "national legislation," and added, "I'm not saying we have to wait till the very end, but we have to get it right."

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV, said some provisions put in place by Congress after the 2006 Saygo mine disaster, which took place in her district, did work effectively, "like response time," but, "While that's encouraging, here we are again to join together to say, 'Never again.'"