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$210M settlement reached in W.Va. mine explosion

BEAVER, W.Va. — In the biggest settlement ever reached in a U.S. mining disaster, the new owners of the West Virginia coal mine where 29 men were killed in an explosion agreed Tuesday to pay $210 million over a tragedy the government blamed on the pursuit of profits ahead of safety.

The money will go to compensate the grieving families, bankroll safety improvements and pay for years of violations by Massey Energy, owner of the Upper Big Branch mine at the time of the April 2010 blast.

Under the deal, Alpha Natural Resources, which bought Massey this year, will face no criminal charges as long as it abides by the settlement, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said. But "no individuals are off the hook," Goodwin warned, adding that federal prosecutors are still investigating former Massey managers.

Charges have been brought against one person: the mine's former security chief, Hughie Elbert Stover. A jury convicted him last month of lying to investigators and trying to destroy records. He is awaiting sentencing.

The settlement was criticized by some of the dead men's relatives, who said they won't be satisfied until charges are filed against those they consider responsible for the catastrophe.

Hours after the settlement was announced, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration released a final report on the blast that detailed 369 safety violations at Upper Big Branch, including 12 it said contributed to the explosion. The report confirmed what the agency and other investigators said previously: that Massey allowed a buildup of highly explosive methane gas and combustible coal dust, and that worn and broken cutting equipment created the spark that ignited the fuel.

$210M settlement reached in W.Va. mine explosion 12/06/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 6, 2011 11:32pm]
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