PRICE - The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) union will be allowed to participate in the federal investigation of August's Crandall Canyon mine disaster.
And the U.S. Department of Labor has appointed a liaison to keep the Utah Mine Safety Commission abreast of developments in the federal probe.
Federal officials announced those two developments Tuesday regarding the contentious investigation being conducted by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration into the disaster that killed six miners and three would-be rescuers.
MSHA earlier rejected a request by families of the six trapped miners to have the union act as their representative, saying regulations required the miners themselves to make the request.
But MSHA issued a statement late Tuesday that said "two or more" unidentified Crandall Canyon miners "have confidentially designated the UMWA as their representatives for the purposes of this investigation. MSHA welcomes their participation consistent with their full rights under the Mine Act."
The union will not participate in the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration investigation team's formal interviews with Crandall Canyon mine disaster witnesses. It will have access to the mine's underground workings in the vicinity of the disaster, said David James, a spokesman for the Department of Labor.
The Utah Mine Safety Commission, appointed by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to determine what role the state should play in mine safety in the aftermath of the Crandall Canyon disaster, will not have that much access to information.
But Jonathan Snare, acting Labor Department solicitor, told commission chairman Scott Matheson on Tuesday that the agency's Andrew Madden would give panel "regular briefings regarding the ongoing investigation."
And Snare pledged that if anything is discovered of urgent importance to the safety of Utah's coal mines, "we will promptly convey such information to the [commission]" rather than wait until the end of the MSHA's investigation.
Matheson and Huntsman last week asked the Labor Department to be more flexible in passing along information uncovered in MSHA's probe, arguing that being told of some investigation results would help the commission's ability to help prevent a similar disaster in Utah's coal mines.
"Maybe we're making a little headway in that direction," said Matheson, who requested the liaison.
Snare had held that MSHA needed to protect its "law-enforcement" investigation to avoid disclosures that could imperil the agency's ability to pursue charges of wrongdoing, if any.
The state's representative on MSHA's investigative team, Utah Labor Commissioner Sherrie Hayashi, is bound by a confidentiality agreement that precludes her from sharing whatever she learns with the commission or other state officials until the MSHA inquiry is completed.
Labor Department official Ed Clare will provide the Utah commission with whatever information it needs about mine-safety programs in other states and technical mine safety information.