Former Massey Energy CEO Indicted

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For those of you who have been following the Massey Energy story, the Mine Workers (UMWA) passed along this news yesterday:

United States Attorney Booth Goodwin announced that a federal grand jury today returned an indictment charging Donald L. Blankenship, former Chief Executive Officer of Massey Energy Company, with four criminal offenses. The indictment charges Blankenship with conspiracy to violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and securities fraud. The indictment alleges that from about Jan. 1, 2008, through about April 9, 2010, Blankenship conspired to commit and cause routine, willful violations of mandatory federal mine safety and health standards at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine, located in Raleigh County, West Virginia. The indictment alleges that during this same period of time, Blankenship was part of a conspiracy to impede and hinder federal mine safety officials from carrying out their duties at Upper Big Branch by providing advance warning of federal mine safety inspection activities, so their underground operations could conceal and cover up safety violations that they routinely committed.

The indictment further alleges that after a major, fatal explosion occurred at Upper Big Branch on April 5, 2010, Blankenship made and caused to be made false statements and representations to the SEC concerning Massey Energy’s safety practices prior to the explosion. Additionally, the indictment alleges that, after this explosion, Blankenship made and caused to be made materially false statements and representations, as well as materially misleading omissions, in connection with the purchase and sale of Massey Energy stock.

The FBI and the United States Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General are in charge of the investigation. United States Attorney Booth Goodwin, Counsel to the United States Attorney Steven Ruby and Assistant United States Attorney Gabriele Wohl are handling the prosecution.The four counts charged carry a maximum combined penalty of 31 years’ imprisonment.

Click here to view a copy of the indictment. An indictment is only an allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The Massey Energy Upper Big Branch (W. Va.) deadly blast killed 29 in 2010. Families of the victims reacted to the indictment yesterday.

Photo by D.D. Meighen on Flickr. Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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MSHA Admits Failures in Upper Big Branch Inspections

by Mike Hall – Reposted from the AFL-CIO NOW Blog

The Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) enforcement effort and practices at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch (W.Va.) mine had a number significant failures before the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners, according MSHA’s own report on its actions released today.

MSHA’s George Fesak who led the internal review says:

While there was no evidence linking the actions of MSHA employees to this tragedy, we found instances where enforcement efforts at UBB were compromised because MSHA and District 4 [the MSHA district with jurisdiction over the mine] did not follow established agency policies and procedures.

The report finds that inspectors “failed to inspect key parts of the Upper Big Branch Mine, did not properly step up enforcement actions, and missed major coal-dust violations” prior to explosion, writes The Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward.

Mine Workers President (UMWA) Cecil Roberts says the report on MSHA’s actions at the non-union mine “illustrates the many shortcomings of that agency with respect to enforcing the law at UBB.”

Required inspections were not completed. Logbooks where critical information was supposed to be recorded about the conditions of the mine were not examined. MSHA District 4 supervisory personnel did not follow up on what were clearly flagrant violations of the law. These and many other failures allowed Massey to continue to get away with violating the law and putting its employees in danger every single day. April 5, 2010 was one day too many.

Roberts also says that the report indicates that “the inspectors who were tasked with working at UBB were new and inexperienced.”

Many had not even completed all their training. This is a nationwide issue at MSHA, the result of years of neglect and indifference by the Bush administration. But frankly, that’s still no excuse for what occurred at UBB.

“It is clear the entire system failed these 29 miners,” says Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who cites:

Congress’s failure to maintain adequate and experienced staffing at MSHA over the years, to the agency’s failures to fully enforce the Mine Act, to the inherent weaknesses in that law, to a company hell-bent on exploiting all of those weaknesses.

After meeting with families of the Upper Big Branch victims today MSHA Administrator Joe Main told reporters:

I don’t think there’s question that MSHA could have done better.I don’t think there’s any question that we surely plan to do better.

One former Massey supervisor has been sentenced to a jail term and two have been convicted or plead guilty.

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Massey CEO Set to Open More Coal Mines

by Tula Connell – Reposted from the AFL-CIO NOW Blog

Don Blankenship was head of Massey Energy when 29 coal miners lost their lives in a massive explosion. Forced to resign, he has been largely invisible since.

Now he’s filed papers to start another coal mine venture. According to Business Week:

Public records show that Blankenship has incorporated a new venture in Kentucky. Paperwork for McCoy Coal Group Inc. of Belfry, Ky., has been on file since January, though, and it has yet to seek a single mining permit, says Kentucky Energy and Environment spokesman Dick Brown.

Following the April 2010 the explosian at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch (W.Va.) mine, a Mine Workers (UMWA) report on the disaster summed up the tragedy in its title: Industrial Homicide. An independent report on the disaster commissioned by former W.Va. Gov. Joe Manchin (D) concluded the responsibility for the explosion “lies with the management of Massey Energy…[B]y frequently and knowingly violating the law and blatantly disregarding known safety practices…Massey exhibited a corporate mentality that placed the drive to produce coal above worker safety.” And an investigation by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) found the company kept two sets of books to hide safety problems.

Prior to the disaster, MSHA had filed more than 450 safety citations at Upper Big Branch, which wasn’t the only Massey mine with safety problems. MSHA records show that in at least six of the 10 years prior to the explosion, Massey mine’s injury rate has been worse than the national average for similar operations. In 2009, Massey and subsidiary Aracoma Coal Co. agreed to pay $4.2 million in criminal fines and civil penalties related to a January 2006 fire that killed two miners at the Alma No. 1 mine.

But far from taking responsibility, Blankenship has implied the deadly blast was God’s fault and told the government to keep its hands off patriotic business like Massey. A business so patriotic that the Mine Workers’ report described it as

A rogue corporation, acting without real regard for mine safety and health law and regulations, that established a physical working environment that can only be described as a bomb waiting to go off.

Blankenship has made a career of busting unions, violating mine safety laws, attacking environmentalists and shilling for the far right and corporate America. The workers at Upper Big Branch were not in a union. A report following the tragedy found that unionized coal mines are far safer.

Alpha Natural Resources, which bought Massey Energy for $8.5 billion, last week reached an agreement with the federal government to pay $210 million, which does not bar any future criminal prosecutions of individuals connected to the deadly explosion.

Let’s hope not. Because as UMWA spokesman Phil Smith puts it, at least 18 Massey managers should be prosecuted, including its former CEO.

Don Blankenship belongs in jail, not in a position to put yet more miners’ lives at risk.

(Blankenship is among 30 of the worst 1 percent–bankers, politicians, and corporate big wigs–highlighted by Brave New Films. You can vote for the worst of the worst here.)

Photo of the Upper Big Branch Mine by TV19 – DD Meighen on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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Former Massey Official Guilty in Upper Big Branch Mine Case

by Mike Hall – Reposted from the AFL-CIO NOW Blog

The former director of security at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch (W.Va.) mine was found guilty in federal court of lying to federal agents and destroying documents sought by investigators looking into the deadly blast. Twenty-nine miners were killed in the 2010 explosion.

Hughie Elbert Stover faces up to 25 years in prison after being convicted on two felony counts of making a false statement and trying to cover up records in a federal investigation.

At press conference following yesterday’s verdict, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said:

This will send a very clear message that this is way too important an investigation to obstruct. We need to get to the bottom of what circumstances led to this explosion and who was responsible.

Click here and here to read more on the trial and verdict from the Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward.

Also yesterday, the Mine Workers (UMWA) released its report on the blast, “Industrial Homicide,” that called Massey “A rogue corporation, acting without real regard for mine safety and health law and regulations.” Click here for more.

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