|UPDATE: Six years after the Upper Big Branch mining disaster, former CEO Don Blankenship has been sentenced to one year in prison and fined $250,000.|
COMMENT Bob Weaver
It is the sixth anniversary of the Upper Big Branch mining disaster.
Twenty-nine Upper Big Branch miners were killed in the April 5, 2010, explosion.
Like most mining disasters, it was called an "accident" or just another "act of god."
Five years prior the explosion, Massey Energy had received 1,422 citations for safety violations at the mine and was assessed $1.89 million in penalties.
MSHA released its final report on December 6, 2011, concluding that flagrant safety violations contributed to a coal dust explosion. It issued 369 citations at that time, assessing $10.8 million in penalties.
After the explosion, legal teams were hired to deal with a backlog of contested mine safety citations. The number of unresolved appeals had grown to 16,600, and Massey Energy, then owner of Upper Big Branch, had the highest contestation rate of any coal mine in the nation.
The Litigation Backlog Project was shuttered, with 30 of the 74 lawyers hired for the effort being laid off.
MSHA itself has been blamed for ignoring critical safety violations, regulators long playing cat-and-mouse games with Mountain State extractors, giving a free pass to King Coal.
The coal outfits and their political allies have said such enforcement has been "Obama's War on Coal."
Alpha Natural Resources, which had bought Massey Energy in 2011, settled its corporate criminal liabilities with the U.S. Attorney for $209 million.
Investigation of personal criminal liability continued with mine personnel convicted and sentenced for providing false information.
In April 2012, producer Alpha Natural Resources Inc. said it will permanently close Upper Big Branch.
Now, former Massey CEO Don Blankenship has been found guilty of a misdemeanor over what records say was "egregious crimes" related to the miners deaths, while the WV Legislature passed "safety bills," that have little to do with safety.
It's back to business as usual.
In Denise Giardina's book "Storming Heaven," she wrote about King Coal - "It stole everything it hadn't bothered to buy, land deeds, private homes, and ultimately, the souls of its men and women."
For those victims and their families, after the wailing of politicians about the tragedy and the protestations of over- regulation, we can only "hang down our head and cry."
See Five years after Upper Big Branch, safety problems persist Associated Press