Ex-Official Says MSHA Covered Up Toxic Spill

April 4, 2004

A government whistle-blower says the Bush administration covered up the reasons for a toxic coal slurry spill in Appalachia ranking among the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.

In a report airing Sunday night on "60 Minutes," Jack Spadaro told Correspondent Bob Simon that political appointees in the Department of Labor whitewashed a report that said an energy company that had contributed to the Republican Party was responsible for the 300-million gallon spill.

Until recently, Spadaro was the head of the National Mine Health and Safety Academy and played a key role in investigating the spill, which was 25 times the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska.

"It polluted 100 miles of streams, killing everything in the streams, all the way to the Ohio River," said Spadaro of the October 2000 spill that affected West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky.

"The Bush administration came in and the scope of our investigation was considerably shortened. I had never seen something so corrupt and lawless in my entire career … interference with a federal investigation of the most serious environmental disaster in the history of the Eastern United States."

Spadaro says his investigation determined that Massey Energy, the owner of the impoundment containing the viscous and toxic liquid, knew the containment was weak, and it had leaked once before.

The company was about to be cited for serious violations that could have resulted in large fines and criminal charges, Spadaro said. The Mine Safety and Health Administration, a division of DOL, was also going to be criticized for its failure to regulate Massey's impoundment.

But the MSHA curtailed his report. "It appeared to me that [MSHA] thought we were getting too close to issuing serious violations to the mining company," he said.

In the end, Massey was fined about $110,000 and cited for two violations, instead of the eight Spadaro said his report was seeking. Spadaro refused to sign the shortened report, despite the request of the new Bush-appointed head of MSHA, and resigned from the investigation in protest. He then complained to the DOL, which said none of his allegations about Massey was substantiated.

Spadaro was removed last year from his position as director of the academy, which trains mining inspectors. He says it was a reprisal for not going along with the altered report and going public with his criticisms, including new charges of corruption in the MSHA. The government claims Spadaro was removed because he was insubordinate and abused his authority, in addition to misusing a government credit card for approximately $20.

MSHA recently announced they would give Spadaro a new job — away from his home in West Virginia and at a significant reduction in salary. Spadaro says he intends to sue the government and is also in contact with the Office of Special Counsel for Whistleblower Protection.

Massey Energy, the head of MSHA, and the secretary of labor all declined to be interviewed for the CBS report.

Source: CBS News