This is another in our series of posts following up the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster in April 2010. As reported in the Wall Street Journal* a former superintendent in the Massey Energy mine, Gary May, was sentenced to 21 months in prison for his part in the accident. Specifically May “warned miners that inspectors were coming and ordered subordinates to falsify a record book and disable a methane monitor so workers could keep mining coal.”
The U.S. attorney in charge of the case is basing criminal indictments on a conspiracy that he believes “certainly went beyond Upper Big Branch.” In other words the government is working its way up the food chain at Massey with lower level managers such as May pleading guilty and cooperating with prosecutors. The developments here are worth keeping an eye on as it is relatively rare to see the string pulled so extensively in cases of safety failures at the operating level. The role and influence of senior executives will ultimately come under scrutiny and their culpability determined not on the slogans they promulgated but on their actions.
* K. Maher, “Former Mine OfficialSentenced to 21 Months,” Wall Street Journal (Jan. 17, 2013).