"Just days before the April 5 explosion, MSHA agreed that the Upper Big Branch mine had no major outstanding safety issues and found the mine to be in good condition," he said in his opening remarks.
Casting a pall of mistrust over MSHA's work, Blankenship urged Congress to ensure that the agency conducts an "open, public and transparent" investigation into the explosion.
"We do not think that MSHA should be able to investigate itself behind closed doors," he said.
"How likely is MSHA to point the finger at itself if the evidence gathered in confidential interviews suggests that its actions contributed to the explosion? How do we know we’ll see all the evidence, or if all alternatives are aggressively explored if MSHA can investigate in secrecy?"
Sen. Byrd agreed, at least in part, that MSHA officials were not innocent bystanders to the deadly accident.
"Congress has authorized the most aggressive miner protection laws in the history of the world – the history of the universe. But certain laws aren't worth a damn if the enforcement agency is not vigorous about demanding safety in the mines," said Byrd.
"Assistant Secretary Main and his team at the Mine Safety and Health Administration still have much to explain regarding this tragedy at Upper Big Branch that happened on their watch,” said Byrd
For MSHA, legal and fiscal resources would be "critically important" in holding accountable mine operators for future violations, Main said. But dollars alone would not solve the problem.
"The needs are more than money," Main told senators. "It is the responsibility of mine operators to comply with the mine act and mandatory health and safe standards to avert injury, disease and death."
"Only when we change the culture of safety throughout the mining industry and all mine operators live up to their responsibility will all miners be safe."