In the largest ever settlement of a mine disaster, Alpha Natural Resources agreed to pay $209 million in restitution and penalties for the role of its subsidiary, Massey Energy, in a 2010 mine explosion that killed twenty-nine men in West Virginia.
That amount includes $46.5 million allocated to the families of the victims and those who were injured in the blast.
The settlement includes terms that protect Alpha, but not individual Massey executives, from prosecution.
The settlement, first reported by the Charleston Gazette, follows months of investigative work by officials from the Departments of Justice and Labor and an independent commission appointed by the former West Virginia governor. The findings placed the blame for the blast squarely on Massey and its reckless disregard for safety standards.
Today’s announcement, which will be made public after federal investigators meet with families of the victims, will detail criminal responsibility, that Alpha and Massey accept.
Massey, which Alpha purchased in June, dismissed charges that its actions led directly to the disaster.
The settlement does not protect Massey managers. Eighteen executives refused to be interviewed by federal investigators, invoking their Fifth Amendment rights.
In addition to the $46.5 million payout to victims and families, the agreement includes $80 million to bolster safety and infrastructure in underground mines owned by Alpha and Massey; $48 million to set up a foundation to be used to finance academic research on mine safety; and about $35 million in fines and fees that Massey owed to the Mining, Safety and Health Administration, a branch of the Department of Labor.
Alpha also must put in place enough safety equipment, ventilation, and methods of clearing explosive rock dust out of all its underground mines within ninety days.
The company will be required to build a state-of-the-art training facility in West Virginia, including a mine lab where it will be able to simulate mining disasters.
A report released in March by the team appointed by former Governor Joe Manchin III determined the disaster could have been prevented if Massey observed safety standards. The report accused Massey of a pattern of negligence, which allowed a “perfect storm” of poor ventilation, non-functional safety mechanisms, and combustible coal dust.
The investigators dismissed Massey’s claims that the blast had occurred because a sudden burst of methane bubbled from the ground, saying evidence contradicting that theory included the bodies of the miners found near the main explosion.
Federal officials have said that in the year prior to the explosion, safety inspectors cited Upper Big Branch 515 times and ordered it to shut down operations fifty-two times. Federal investigators have also said that Massey kept two sets of books so that accounts of hazardous conditions in Upper Big Branch would be kept hidden from inspectors.
Via The New York Times.