WASHINGTON – Alpha Natural Resources Inc. has agreed to make payments and safety investments totaling $209 million in connection with the criminal investigation of the April 5, 2010, explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine (UBB) in Montcoal, W.Va., announced Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney R. Booth Goodwin II for the District of West Virginia and officials with the FBI and Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General.
The explosion at the UBB mine claimed the lives of 29 coal miners and injured two others. At the time of the explosion, the mine was owned by Massey Energy Company, whose operations came under Alpha’s control in a June 1, 2011, merger.
“The tragedy at Upper Big Branch will never be forgotten, and the families affected by it will never be made completely whole again. Today’s agreement represents the largest-ever resolution in a criminal investigation of a mine disaster and will ensure appropriate steps are taken to improve mine safety now and will fund research to enhance mine safety in the future,” said Attorney General Holder. “While we continue to investigate individuals associated with this tragedy, this historic agreement – one of the largest payments ever for workplace safety crimes of any type – will help to create safer work environments for miners in West Virginia and across the country.”
“There should never be another UBB, and this announcement is aimed squarely at that goal. For far too long, we've accepted the idea that catastrophic accidents are an inherent risk of being a coal miner. That mindset is unacceptable,” said U.S. Attorney Goodwin. “Collectively, these requirements will set a new standard for what can and should be done to protect miners. We look forward to a future in which coal mining is as safe as any other occupation.”
As part of the non-prosecution agreement, Alpha will invest at least $80 million in mine safety improvements at all of its underground mines, including those formerly owned by Massey. Alpha will also place $48 million in a mine health and safety research trust, to be used to fund academic and non-profit research that will advance efforts to enhance mine safety. In addition, the company will pay restitution of $1.5 million to each of the families of the 29 miners who died at UBB and to the two individuals who were injured, for a total restitution payment of $46.5 million. Alpha also will pay a total of up to $34.8 million in penalties owed to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), including all penalties that arise from the UBB accident investigation.
The remedial safety measures included in the agreement include the following:
The agreement announced today is the largest-ever resolution in a criminal investigation of a mine disaster. It addresses only the corporate criminal liability of the former Massey, not potential criminal charges for any individual. The criminal investigation of individuals associated with Massey remains ongoing.