By Molly Moore
In November, former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship was indicted on four charges in conjunction with the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at the company’s Upper Big Branch mine. He pleaded not guilty.
The indictment alleges that Blankenship closely managed the West Virginia coal mine and, in that capacity, “conspired to commit and cause routine violations of mandatory federal mine safety standards.” He is also charged with impeding federal mine safety inspectors before the disaster, and making false and misleading statements afterward.
The charges — three felonies and one misdemeanor — carry a possible jail sentence of 31 years. Four investigations found that the scale of the Upper Big Branch disaster was due in part to high levels of explosive coal dust and poor ventilation in the mine.
Under Blankenship’s leadership, from 2000 to 2009 Massey accrued more safety violations than any other coal company and was tied with CONSOL, Inc. for the worst fatality record. Both companies lost 23 miners during those years, but Massey produced less coal. In 2009, Massey was fined $12.9 million in proposed safety violations, and Blankenship received a $2 million safety award.