A federal grand jury in West Virginia on November 14 indicted Don Blankenship the former CEO of Massey Energy for willfully violating federal mine safety regulations.
Blankenship was the top executive at Massey in 2010 when an explosion tore through the company’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia killing 29 miners and injuring dozens more.
The grand jury indicted Blankenship for conspiring to violate ventilation and dust control regulations. Two independent investigations of the blast found that poor ventilation and the unsafe build up of coal dust caused the lethal explosion.
Blankenship was also charged with conspiring to hide mine safety violations from federal mine inspectors and with issuing false statements that led investors and the US Securities Exchange Commission to believe that there were no safety problems at Upper Big Branch.
The grand jury returned four indictments against Blankenship–three were felonies and one was a misdemeanor.
According to the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), at least 52 miners died as a result of working in Massey owned mines while Blankenship was CEO.
“The carnage that was a recurring nightmare at Massey mines during Blankenship’s tenure at the head of that company was unmatched.” said Cecil Roberts, the international president of UMWA. “No other company had even half as many fatalities during that time. No company compared with Massey’s record of health and safety violations during that time.”
Massey mines were non-union mines, but the UMWA has supported the families of dead miners and the explosion’s survivors in their pursuit of justice.
During the four years that followed the explosion, the UMWA has been the most vocal organization criticizing Blankenship’s disregard for safety.
The union called the explosion a criminal act caused by the company’s willful neglect of basic mine safety precautions and it urged state and federal law enforcement officials to pursue criminal charges against those at the very top of the Massey corporation, not just the managers of the mine.
According to the Charleston Gazette, the federal indictment included, “a long list of repeated and serious violations at Upper Big Branch of rules that require proper ventilation of underground mines and mandate that operators prevent the accumulation of highly explosive coal dust.”
The indictment also says that Blankenship urged mine managers to violate safety rules in order to maximize production and profits.
If Blankenship is convicted of the most serious charges, he could serve up to 20 years in prison.
“I commend the US 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,” said Roberts. “Finally, a strong message has been sent to every other coal operator who chooses to violate the law and puts the lives of miners at risk.”