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Utah mine investigation documents should not be public, agency says

  • Story Highlights
  • Government attorneys: Mine case documents shouldn't be open to public
  • CNN and other news media suing to make them public
  • Suit seeks decision on open proceedings, temporary stop to closed ones
  • On August 6, six miners were trapped when Crandall Canyon mine caved in
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(CNN) -- Court proceedings of the investigation into the collapse of Utah's Crandall Canyon mine should not be made public, argue attorneys for the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The records are not typically available to the public, and opening them would inhibit the amount and quality of information that could be gathered in the probe, the lawyers said in documents filed Thursday.

The documents included MSHA's response to a federal lawsuit filed in Utah earlier this week by news organizations, including CNN, The Associated Press, The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret Morning News.

The suit seeks to stop the investigation into the mine incident until a judge decides whether the proceedings should be open to the public. It also asks for a temporary restraining order to stop investigators from conducting closed proceedings.

The suit also demands that a transcript of all closed hearings be released immediately.

On August 6, six miners were trapped when the Crandall Canyon mine caved in. Their bodies have not been recovered. Three other people, including an MSHA inspector, died as they attempted to rescue the trapped miners August 16.

The lawsuit filed by media notes that the same court ruled that MSHA had to make public its proceedings about a similar accident 20 years ago.

U.S. Department of Labor attorneys said in their response that media have not shown they are entitled to such actions.

The government attorneys cite a 1985 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that said "formal hearings" were open to outside groups, but closed to media.

The government's documents say that "MSHA is not holding formal hearings, but has simply dispatched investigators to interview individuals who may have information regarding" the mine incident.

News organizations "have cited no authority" for having access to the interviews, the lawyers contend.

Further, they say that the mine investigation will be adversely affected if interviews cease.

Agency safety experts have already traveled to Utah, they pointed out, and the investigation is already under way. Stopping it will delay a final report, and delaying interviews could mean interview subjects might become unavailable or reconsider participating. In addition, recollections may fade, the government said.

And the release of transcripts could jeopardize the investigation by influencing other witnesses, or could cause information to become distorted, the attorneys argue.

Also Thursday, media organizations filed an affidavit from former federal mine safety official Tony Oppegard. He objects to the description of the investigation as a law enforcement matter, saying that an MSHA investigation differs from a criminal investigation in a number of ways. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Crandall Canyon MineMine Safety and Health AdministrationUtah

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