Senators Udall, Heinrich Ask for Explanation of Missed Mine Safety Inspections at WIPP

In letter, senators ask mine safety administration for assurance that steps will be taken to ensure safety, prevent future accidents

U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have announced that they have sent a letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, asking for a written report on why the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) had not done legally required regular inspections at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, N.M.

The information about missed safety inspections was revealed in the Department of Energy’s accident report on the Feb. 5 fire at WIPP. A specialized salt mine over 2,000 feet below ground, WIPP is covered by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. By law, the Labor Department’s MSHA is required to inspect WIPP no less than four times a year. Yet records in the accident report indicate that MSHA had performed inspections just twice in the last three years.

“The health and safety of the workers at WIPP and the surrounding community are our top priorities and it is extremely concerning to learn that a fire in the mining portion of WIPP was a preventable circumstance,” Udall and Heinrich wrote.

The senators asked Perez to provide them with an explanation of the factors that led MSHA to miss inspections, a summary of the findings of the inspections that MSHA did complete, assurance that MSHA will follow the inspection process in the future, a summary of steps MSHA will take to ensure that such an accident does not occur again, and a pledge that MSHA staff will be available at WIPP throughout the recovery process to ensure the safety of the investigations, remediation, and future re-opening of WIPP.

A copy of the letter is available HERE.