U.S. Attorney’s office announces $209 million non-prosecution deal with Alpha (audio)
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U.S. Attorney R. Booth Goodwin (pictured behind podium) answers questions from the press regarding his investigation into the Upper Big Branch disaster. (Photo/Steven Allen Adams)
By Steven Allen Adams | West Virginia Watchdog
CHARLESTON — The U.S. Attorney’s office announced today that a non-prosecution agreement had been reached with Alpha Natural Resources, marking the largest ever resolution in a criminal investigation investigation involving a mine disaster.
The deal comes as federal investigators continue to look into the cause of the worst mining disaster in 40 years; a disaster which caused a controversial mining company to sell its assets to Alpha in June.
U.S. Attorney R. Booth Goodwin, joined by FBI and Department of Labor officials Tuesday, said Alpha Natural Resources, which bought Massey Energy last summer, will make payments and safety investments totaling over $209 million in response to the April 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine, operated by Performance Coal Company and owned by Massey.
The agreement addresses corporate criminal liability of Massey, leaving open the possibility of criminal charges for former Massey executives. Federal officials are continuing their criminal investigation into Massey, and Alpha is cooperating.
“I want to emphasize again that the investigation of individuals associated with Massey is still ongoing,” Goodwin said. “If anything this resolution allows us to place a greater focus on that critical piece of our investigation. Our team is still in place and we’re still working hard on the investigation.”
Alpha will invest at least $80 million in mine safety enhancements at all it’s underground mines. Another $48 million will be invested in a mine health and safety trust fund for research. Families of the victims of of the Upper Big Branch explosion, which killed 29 miners, will receive $1.5 million each, totaling $46.5 million.
Alpha will also pay all fines levied by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, totaling $34.8 million.
“We can never replace a price on the lives if the victims,” Goodwin said. “It wasn’t simply the stroke of a pen writing a check, it was a commitment to the way mines are operated at Alpha and throughout the industry. This is an amount of money going to make miners safer.”
According to the non-prosecution deal, which last for two years, Alpha agreed to the following:
- Installation of digital monitoring systems in all underground mines to continuously monitor compliance with ventilation requirements and make sure mines are free of potentially explosive methane gas.
- Implementing a plan to ensure that each of its underground mines has the personnel and resources necessary to meet all legal requirements concerning incombustible material and accumulations of coal dust and loose coal.
- Purchasing state-of-the-art equipment to monitor its mines for explosive concentrations of coal dust and use that equipment in all its underground mines.
- Purchasing next-generation rock dusting equipment (pending MSHA approval), further enhancing its ability to combat explosion hazards.
- Installation of cutting-edge oxygen cascading systems to help miners make their way to safety if a serious accident should occur in an Alpha mine.
- Building a state-of-the-art training facility and implement a full training curriculum. The facility will be used to train Alpha miners and also will be available to other mining companies.
“We’re particularly pleased that a substantial portion of the settlement is going towards furthering miner safety, which has always been Alpha’s guiding principle,” said Kevin Crutchfield, CEO of Alpha Natural Resources. “We’re mindful that the Justice Department investigation arose from a terrible tragedy which took the lives of 29 miners.”
In another statement, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis said she was pleased that Alpha was making safety and health investments at its mines.
“I’m encouraged that Alpha is making investments in mine safety and research in response to the Upper Big Branch tragedy,” Solis said. “They are sorely needed. Alpha has a duty to change a troubling management culture at UBB that placed profits over people. New equipment and new facilities that value the safety of every miner are important first steps.”
“While this agreement covers corporate prosecution, my department will continue to cooperate with the Department of Justice to address any individual criminal wrongdoing uncovered by ongoing federal investigations,” she said. “Anyone determined to have violated a criminal statute in connection with Upper Big Branch should be brought to justice.”
The Mine Safety and Health Administration will hold a 3 p.m. press conference today releasing their final report into the Upper Big Branch tragedy.
Listen to audio from the 40-min press conference below (or click here):
- BREAKING: Upper Big Branch Disaster Leads To $200 Million Settlement, Prosecutions Still Likely (thinkprogress.org)
- Massey to Pay $209 Million for Mine Explosion; Families of 29 Dead Get $47 Million (onebluestocking.wordpress.com)
- $210M settlement in deadly W.Va. mine disaster (cbsnews.com)
- Feds unveil record settlement in W.Va. mine blast (newsok.com)
- Feds unveil $210M settlement in W.Va. mine blast (ctv.ca)
Posted under Audio, Coal, Energy, Environment, Featured, Federal, Judical/Legal Reform, Negligence, News, Regulations, West Virginia.
Tags: Alpha Natural Resources, Justice Department, Massey, Massey Energy, Mine Safety and Health Administration, MSHA, United States Attorney, Upper Big Branch
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