Ex Coal CEO Sentenced in Mine Safety Case

CHARLESTON, W.VA – Donald L. Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy Company,  was sentenced on Wednesday to a year in prison for conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards.

The sentence comes six years and one day after an explosion ripped through Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine, killing 29 men. Although Mr. Blankenship was not accused of direct responsibility for the accident, the deadliest in American coal mining in about 40 years, the disaster prompted the inquiry that ultimately led to his conviction.

Federal officials have said that last autumn’s guilty verdict was the first time such a high-ranking executive had been convicted of a workplace safety violation.

At Upper Big Branch, four investigations found worn and broken cutting equipment created a spark that ignited accumulations of coal dust and methane gas. Broken and clogged water sprayers then allowed what should have been a minor flare-up, to become an inferno.

In 2011, Alpha Natural Resources, which bought Massey after the explosion, agreed to pay $210 million to compensate families, finance safety improvements and pay for years of violations by Massey Energy.

Under the deal with federal prosecutors, Alpha wasn’t criminally charged.