Saturday, January 19, 2013

Upper Big Branch mine boss sentenced

Gary May, superintendent of the Upper Big Branch mine, was sentenced yesterday to 21 months in federal prison and a $20,000 fine for malfeasance leading up to and following the April, 2010,  mine disaster there, which claimed 29 lives.

Howard Berkes reported for NPR yesterday that the sentence came as part of a plea agreement whereby May "pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and admitted to ordering a company electrician to disable a methane monitor on a mining machine so it could continue to cut coal without automatic shutdowns.  The monitor is a safety device that senses explosive amounts of methane gas and automatically shuts down mining machines when dangerous levels of gas are present."  May also pleaded guilty to deceiving federal mine safety inspectors and hiding safety violations.  He is cooperating with federal prosecutors as they continue to investigate the 2010 explosion, including possible criminal charges against other Massey managers and executives.

Read earlier posts about the Upper Big Branch explosion and investigation herehere, and here.

Meanwhile, the Mine Safety and Health Administration is toughening regulations to make it easier for the agency to sanction habitual violators.  The new rule will trigger "automatic and immediate shutdowns of mining areas if serious and substantial violations are found in mines" with "pattern of violations" status.

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