Don Blankenship, the disgraced former chief executive of Massey Energy more commonly known as the coal industry's dirtiest CEO, was indicted Thursday on four federal charges surrounding the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners in West Virginia.
The indictment alleges that from about January 1, 2008, through about April 9, 2010, Blankenship conspired to commit and cause routine, willful violations of mandatory federal mine safety and health standards at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine, located in Raleigh County, West Virginia. The indictment alleges that during this same period of time, Blankenship was part of a conspiracy to impede and hinder federal mine safety officials from carrying out their duties at Upper Big Branch by providing advance warning of federal mine safety inspection activities, so their underground operations could conceal and cover up safety violations that they routinely committed.
The indictment further alleges that after a major, fatal explosion occurred at Upper Big Branch on April 5, 2010, Blankenship made and caused to be made false statements and representations to the SEC concerning Massey Energy’s safety practices prior to the explosion. Additionally, the indictment alleges that, after this explosion, Blankenship made and caused to be made materially false statements and representations, as well as materially misleading omissions, in connection with the purchase and sale of Massey Energy stock.
Four separate government and independent investigations, the West Virginia Charleston-Gazette reports, found Massey Energy at fault for the explosion. “While violations of particular safety standards led to the conditions that caused the explosion, the unlawful policies and practices implemented by [Massey] were the root cause of the tragedy,” concluded the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration's report on the incident. “The evidence accumulated during the investigation demonstrates that [Massey] promoted and enforced a workplace culture that valued production over safety, including practices calculated to allow it to conduct mining operations in violation of the law.”
The indictment comes after a four-year investigation by U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. Blankenship, who stepped down from Massey Energy six months after the disaster and has previously denied any wrongdoing, faces up to 31 years in prison.