Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Upper Big Branch mine manager charged with conspiracy to thwart safety laws

The U.S. Attorney for West Virginia today filed criminal charges against the manager of the Upper Big Branch Mine, site of the worst mining accident in forty years when 29 miners died there in an April, 2010 explosion. The mine was owned and operated by Massey Energy, and the person charged, Gary May, was the superintendent of the mine at the time of the accident. May is charged with conspiring "with others known and unknown" to "hamper, hinder, impede, and obstruct the lawful enforcement of mine health and safety laws" at the mine. May had been the superintendent there for five months when the explosion occurred, and he was responsible for its day-to-day operation.

Here's an excerpt from the NPR report:

The conspiracy charges reach into the management ranks of Massey Energy and signal an effort to seek evidence against higher-level executives. 
The conspiracy charges are part of a rare if not unprecedented strategy to seek charges against higher level managers and executives at Massey Energy. 
Using a "criminal information" document for charges bypasses a federal grand jury and indicates the defendant has accepted a plea agreement and is ready to testify against others.
Interestingly, the criminal information does not seek to link the alleged conspiracy directly to the April, 2010 explosion.

NPR reporter Howard Berkes notes that Massey CEO Don Blankenship and other senior executives were known to micro-manage the mine, particularly in relation to its coal production, which was tracked "minute by minute and foot by foot."

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