Mine Workers Hail CEO’s Indictment in Fatal Upper Big Branch Explosion

TRIANGLE, Va. (PAI)—Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts hailed the indictment of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship as a result of the fatal Upper Big Branch mine explosion in West Virginia four years ago.


The blast killed 29 miners.  Though UBB, like the rest of Massey, was non-union, the federal government let the Mine Workers represent the interests of the miners and their families in the subsequent investigations.


One of those probes, by the U.S. attorney for West Virginia, led to Blankenship’s indictment on four felony counts on November 13.  If convicted on all counts, Blankenship could face up to 31 years in jail.


Blankenship’s indictment means “the families of the 52 people who were killed on company property while he was CEO of Massey Energy are one step closer to a measure of justice,” Roberts said.


“The carnage that was a recurring nightmare at Massey mines during Blankenship’s tenure …was unmatched.  No other company had even half as many fatalities during that time.  No other company compared with Massey’s record of health and safety violations during that time.


“Blankenship’s blatant disregard for mine safety and health laws was tragically brought to the nation’s attention when 29 miners were killed at Upper Big Branch on Apr. 5, 2010.  All Americans learned what we in the coalfields knew: For coal miners, working for Massey meant putting your life and your limbs at risk.  Indeed, far too many suffered just that fate.


“I commend the U.S. Attorney’s office for following through on their commitment to take its Upper Big Branch investigation to the very top of the Massey corporate structure. Finally, a strong message has been sent to every other coal operator who chooses to violate the law and put the lives of miners at risk.  Let justice be served,” Roberts concluded.


The court papers said Blankenship knew of the hazardous conditions in UBB – buildup of methane and coal dust – and did nothing to fix them, even though he monitored the mine’s operations virtually every half an hour.


The court papers also said Blankenship conspired to tip off UBB managers when federal mine safety inspectors were coming, and that Blankenship not only failed to fix the hazardous conditions in the mine, but ignored hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal fines for mine safety violations there.


One count charged Blankenship with conspiracy to violate mine safety laws and to impede enforcement at UBB. The court papers also said Blankenship cut labor costs at the mine by cutting safety measures.