Jack Spadaro's Story
Work for MSHA, Tell the Truth, Get Fired
So begins an article on Jack that is featured on National Public Radios Living on Earth program. Jacks plight has also been featured on the acclaimed and widely-read www.salon.com and in several local and regional newspapers. We have heard that more national attention may soon be focused on Jacks whistle-blowing on the Mine Safety and Health Administration and Massey Energy. The smell of corruption is wafting from high places, and some folks may soon be very sad that they tried to muzzle Jack.
As Graffiti film columnist Steve Fesenmaier writes: "OVEC has been complaining to the press about this ultimate act of injustice, and newspapers in the region have published their protest.
"If you are outraged, write: Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health David D. Lauriski at: firstname.lastname@example.org."
Newspapers Speak Out - 1
Louisville Courier-Journal editorial, Nov. 11, 2003
The Massey Energy web site says the company "enjoys a strong market position as the largest producer of Central Appalachian coal."
It doesnt say anything about how well positioned the firm is politically.
For an assessment of that, one might ask Jack Spadaro, who is about to be fired by the political leadership that dominates the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
His sin? Among other things, he did his job well by objecting to his agencys mishandling of the 300 million gallon Martin County coal slurry spill, which gorged waterways with black waste, killed fish, flooded houses and polluted wells along the Kentucky-West Virginia border.
Attorney Jason Huber says the attack on Mr. Spadaro represents "the Department of Labor, Secretary Elaine Chao, Sen. Mitch McConnell and the Bush administrations retaliation ...for whistle-blowing activities."
Mr. Spadaro insists that MSHA cut short its investigation of the spill and played down Massey Energys responsibility, while also minimizing weak oversight by federal regulators.
The administration will dismiss Mr. Spadaro as a hot-headed malcontent, but his basic complaint rings true. He says that "within this administration, theres no tolerance for any kind of disagreement or discussion of issues." He also alleges that no-bid contracts were given to friends and former business associates of MSHA officials.
If Democrats were in control of Capitol Hill, such charges might produce a tough-minded congressional probe, but thats not the case. In any event, there doesnt seem to be much political potential in these issues. Polls show no deep concern about the Bush administrations assault on the regulation of businesses, including coal, or about the linkage between weakened regulation and campaign gifts.
An MSHA spokesman refused to comment, saying the Spadaro case is a personnel issue. But its much more. If Mr. Spadaro is right, MSHA has been taken hostage by political agents of the industry it is supposed to oversee. That charge deserves a response more convincing than "its a personnel matter" or "we cant comment on potential litigation."
Theres a process for protecting from revenge those who blow the whistle on self-protective government bureaucrats. And going in, Mr. Spadaro makes a good case that the ostensible charges against him, even if true, are too trivial to justify firing someone with 26 years of service and good performance ratings. Hes in a strong position to make that point by pursuing the matter.
Newspapers Speak Out - 2
Charleston Gazette editorial, Nov. 18, 2003
Attempts to fire Jack Spadaro, superintendent of the National Mine Safety and Health Academy at Beckley, have become an international issue.
Two months ago, Vanity Fair magazine said hes being ousted because he protested coal pollution cover-ups by the Bush administration.
This month, two more major news outlets focused on the case. They say the White House wants to destroy Spadaro because he exposed lenient treatment of a Massey subsidiary responsible for a giant 2000 coal sludge spill into Tug Fork River on West Virginias southern border. "Dirty business: How Bush and his coal industry cronies are covering up one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history" - thats the title of a long Spadaro report on the global Salon web site.
As Gazette reporter Ken Ward Jr. has chronicled, Salon recounts that the Beckley engineer resigned in 2001 from a federal team investigating the Massey spill, and filed a complaint with the inspector general of the U.S. Labor Department. Spadaro alleged that the Bush administration was soft on Massey, a bankroller of Republican politicians.
Soon afterward, Washington officials began trying to remove him. First, he was accused of making an improper 82-cent phone call. When that charge failed, he was suspended again and told hes being terminated for a $22.60 problem - another flimsy excuse for removal. Spadaro has filed for protection under the federal whistleblower law. The outcome is pending.
Last week, on National Public Radios "Living on Earth" program, Spadaro declared: "Im being fired because I told the truth about the mine disaster and insisted that the agency responsible for investigating it hold the mining company accountable for its negligence."
This month, the New York Times said the administration filed a 10-page dismissal action against Spadaro, accusing him of "abusing his authority, failing to follow orders and proper procedures, and misusing a government credit card by taking unauthorized cash advances that cost the government $22.60 in bank fees."
Thats laughable. Obviously, the administration is using trivia to try to silence an engineer who spoke out against a pollution horror. Well bet that such minor matters wouldnt result in action against any engineer favored by the White House.
What can be done about this injustice? Perhaps West Virginias Democratic members of Congress could demand a hearing into the sordid case. Somehow, the public record should spell out that the administration is protecting polluters.