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Mine Disaster Investigators To Visit White House, But Not Obama

Super Bowl and World Series champions do it. Olympic athletes do it. War heroes do it. They all get to visit the White House and meet with an admiring President of the United States.

This Wednesday, the federal mine safety regulators who investigated the deadly 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia will travel to the White House and Capitol Hill. An email to the group lists morning tours of the White House and the Capitol and a "special White House event" at 2 p.m.

That indicated to some the group might be meeting with President Obama, who had highlighted the Upper Big Branch explosion by attending a memorial service for the 29 victims of the tragedy and meeting with the families left behind. Earlier, at the White House, Mr. Obama said the families were in his prayers.

"But we owe them more than prayers," the President added. "We owe them action. We owe them accountability."

Mr. Obama then announced the mine disaster investigation. Most of the 20 or so members of the MSHA investigative team spent most of the next 20 months away from their homes and families, conducting 269 interviews, reviewing 88,000 pages of documents, and inspecting and testing thousands of pieces of physical evidence.

The team's final report was issued in December and largely blames Massey Energy, the owner of Upper Big Branch at the time of the blast, which "promoted and enforced a workplace culture that valued production over safety, including practices calculated to allow it to conduct mining operations in violation of the law," according to the report.

But the President hasn't said much about the mine disaster or the investigation since April of 2010. And when the MSHA investigators return to the White House Wednesday afternoon for the "special White House event," Mr. Obama is scheduled to be in Milwaukee talking about his newly-released budget.

The White House referred questions about the visit to the Labor Department.

A spokeswoman for MSHA says the White House tour in the morning will be confined to the East Wing and will be "self-guided." The team will be in Washington for a "series of post-accident investigation meetings," says MSHA's Amy Louviere, who did not mention any other event at the White House.

"That's all the information I've been given or will be given," Louviere said, adding she was not aware of any possible meeting with the President.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Howard Berkes
Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.