Federal prosecutors in Charleston, W.Va., have filed the most serious criminal charges yet in the April, 2010, coal mine explosion that left 29 mine workers dead.
The conspiracy charges reach into the management ranks of Massey Energy and signal an effort to seek evidence against higher-level executives.
A “criminal information” accuses Gary May, the former superintendent of Massey’s Upper Big Branch coal mine, of conspiring “with others known and unknown” to “hamper, hinder, impede, and obstruct the lawful enforcement … of mine health and safety laws” at the mine.
As superintendant, May was the most senior Massey manager at the mine and was responsible for its day to day operations. He took on the superintendent’s job five months before the explosion, which multiple investigations have blamed on numerous safety failures. The specific allegations against May include:
— Warning miners underground with “code phrases” when federal regulators arrived for surprise safety inspections, leading to concealment of violations.
— Falsifying “examination record books” at the mine, which identify safety problems, provide notice to federal inspectors and list needed fixes.
— Deliberately altering the air flow underground when federal safety inspectors arrived “in order to conceal and cover up the quantity of air that normally reached that area of the mine.”
— Disabling a malfunctioning methane monitor on a mining machine “allowing the continuous mining machine to be operated for several hours without a functioning methane monitor.”
by Howard Berkes