Wednesday, December 17, 2003

One of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history: Anatomy of a Coverup

Last month I wrote about a Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) official, Jack Spadaro, who was in the process of being fired for blowing the whistle on an investigation of an October 200 slurry spill that was being whitewashed by Bush administration officials.

I just ran across a much longer article in Salon (if you're not a subscriber, you need to sign up for the "Free Day Pass") that describes in sickening detail the background of "one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history."

Indeed, The EPA called the the slurry spill at the Martin County Coal Company in Inez, KY on October 11, 2000
the worst environmental catastrophe in the history of the Eastern United States. Far more extensive in damage than the widely known 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska, the Martin County Coal slurry spill dumped an estimated 306 million gallons of toxic sludge down 100 miles of waterways.
But this isn't just any coverup. The players include the senior U.S. Senator from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell, his wife, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, who oversees MSHA, and the mighty coal industry, which has at stake in this case its ability to continue to locate slurry impoundments over old mines. All of these relationships were best summed up by coal executive Bob Murray at a meeting with MSHA inspectors.
West Virginia Public Radio managed to obtain notes from the meeting. Said Murray: "Senator Mitch McConnell calls me one of the five finest men in America, and last time I checked he was sleeping with your boss."

And Spadaro's crime for which he may lose his job and his pension just a few years before retirement? Blowing the whistle on the whitewashed investigation, or on the no-bid contracts that he contends were awarded to friends and former business associates of David D. Lauriski, the assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, and other senior mine safety officials?

Of course not, you Bush-hating enviro-labor weenies! He's being fired because he made some unauthorized cash advances on his government credit card (paid back on schedule) and, get this:
The most serious of MSHA's charges against Jack Spadaro revolve around the superintendent's granting of free room and board to two instructors who were disabled. MSHA also says that Spadaro violated government rules by providing free room and board at the academy to participants in a mine rescue competition.
Sounds like firing is too good for him.

Yesterday, Salon reported that
Members of a congressional committee have launched a probe into personnel actions taken against a high-ranking mine safety official who is accusing the Bush administration of engaging in a coverup.

On Nov. 18, three Democratic members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce requested that U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao provide them critical documents and information to help them assess whether Jack Spadaro, the superintendent of the National Mine Safety and Health Academy, is being wrongly terminated.


In their letter to Chao, Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., Robert Andrews, D-N.J., and Major Owens, D-N.Y., wrote: "Obviously, Mr. Spadaro's status as a whistleblower -- questioning the conduct of the Martin County Coal investigation and the Department's use of no-bid contracts with friends and associates of Department officials -- raises a very serious concern about the nature of the current disciplinary investigation against him. It is incumbent upon the Committee to ensure that whistleblowers such as Mr. Spadaro are afforded fair treatment and the full protection of the law in employment matters."