House Committee Subpoenas Labor Secretary for Utah Mine Documents

House Committee Subpoenas Labor Secretary for Utah Mine Documents

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- A House committee is compelling Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to give up documents related to the August coal mine collapses in central Utah that killed nine people, saying lawmakers have exhausted other options.

Last month, the House Education and Labor Committee asked for a slew of records related to the department's oversight of the Crandall Canyon mine, including internal communications with the mine operators.

A spokesman for Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., said Monday that while Chao's agency has given the committee some of the requested information, it hasn't yet produced the internal documents.

The committee has no choice but to subpoena the information, Miller spokesman Tom Kiley said. Chao has until 5 p.m. on Oct. 9 to produce the records.

"Those communications are vital to the committee's investigation," Kiley said. "The committee intends to conduct a comprehensive, independent investigation of the tragedy so that we can help learn what steps we can take to prevent future tragedies."

A Labor Department spokesman was not immediately available for comment Monday afternoon.

Nine people died in two cave-ins at the mine. Six miners trapped on Aug. 6 are presumed dead and remain entombed more than 1,500 feet below ground. Three rescuers, including a government mine safety inspector, were killed in a second collapse on Aug. 16 while trying to tunnel to the men.

The accident came a year after several high-profile coal mine disasters spurred a flurry of new mine safety laws. It has led some to question the performance of the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Miller's committee and a Senate panel both will hold hearings next week about the disaster.

Among other things, lawmakers want to know why MSHA allowed certain mining techniques there that experts have said likely contributed to the Aug. 6 collapse.

Miller's committee already has clashed with the agency.

Earlier this month, the department asked Miller's committee to delay its investigation, saying that by asking their own questions, lawmakers could "taint" MSHA's ability to bring civil or criminal charges. The agency is still investigating the accident.

Miller said he would go ahead anyway.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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