A former CEO of Massey Energy was sentenced to a year in prison on Wednesday at the US District Court in Charleston, WV for a conspiracy to falsify dust samples in the wake of what is said to be the the deadliest American coal mine explosion in decades.
Don Blankenship, who headed the company until 2010, will spend one year in prison and faces fines of $250,000 following his conviction in December on a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate federal mine safety laws.
In April 2010, 29 miners died in Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, WV after a coal dust explosion. Investigators determined that faulty cutting equipment ignited a build-up of coal dust and methane gas, according to an Associated Press report.
Responding in a statement to Blankenship’s sentence, US Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said that the punishment may offer some condolences to the families of the late miners, while sending a message to the coal industry.
“This sentence proves that no mine operator is above the law, and should send a strong signal to unscrupulous employers that skirt safety rules. No prison sentence and no amount of money can bring back the 29 men who lost their lives at Upper Big Branch, but my sincere hope is that this sentence can offer some measure of closure for the families of those miners,” said Secretary Perez.
The secretary of labor opined that more stringent laws are needed to prevent similar accidents in the future.
“That said this is a clear case of the punishment not fitting the crime. This sentence is the maximum allowable under the law, but regrettably, the criminal provisions of the Mine Act are far too weak to truly hold accountable those who put miners’ lives at risk,” Secerary Perez said. “This administration continues to support efforts in Congress to strengthen those penalties, and we stand ready to work with members who believe that no worker should lose their life for a paycheck.”
Massey Energy was acquired by Bristol, VA-based Alpha Natural Resources in June 2011.