Massey Coal Executives Escape Prosecution for Mine Deaths

Wednesday, April 06, 2011
Don Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy
One year after the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 workers, none of mine owner Massey Energy’s executives have faced criminal prosecution. But this only follows a long history of Massey breaking the law and staying out of jail.
Massey Energy’s coal operations have been found guilty of numerous safety violations, some of which have contributed to miners being killed on the job. But not one of the company’s executives has ever been in danger of going to jail.
“Enforcement doesn't reach into the boardroom,” Davitt McAteer, who headed the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Clinton administration, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
Pat McGinley, a West Virginia University law professor, added, “Corporate executives and board members have the power to make compliance with the law a company priority. If rogue corporate officials were forced to spend even a few weeks in jail for condoning serious continued violations of safety or environmental laws, compliance would become a personal priority.”
Instead, Massey, despite being responsible for numerous other serious incidents besides the Big Branch tragedy, has shielded its leaders from liability by letting lower-level officials at subsidiaries take the hit.
For example, in December 2008, Massey-owned Aracoma Coal Co. agreed to pay a $2.5 million criminal fine and $1.7 million in civil penalties, the largest combined payment ever in a coal-mining death case—in this case, two deaths. Five of the subsidiary’s mid- and low-level foreman pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, but served no time in prison.
As for the Upper Big Branch disaster, so far federal prosecutors have filed charges against only two people: a security director accused of lying to investigators and trying to destroy documents, and a miner for lying about having a foreman’s license.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
Taking Big Coal to Task is Difficult (by Ken Ward Jr., Charleston Gazette-Mail)


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