Massey Energy responds to Obama’s criticism

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Print this page by Paula C. Squires

Massey Energy Co. today fired back at President Barack Obama’s critical statements on an explosion at a Massey mine that claimed 29 lives.

Obama received a preliminary briefing today from federal officials on the April 5 disaster at the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va. “Owners responsible for conditions in the Upper Big Branch mine should be held accountable for decisions they make and preventative measures they failed to take,” the president said.

Obama noted that stronger mine safety laws were passed in 2006 after another mine tragedy. “But safety violators like Massey have still been able to find ways to put their bottom line before the safety of their workers — filing endless appeals instead of paying fines and fixing safety problems.” 

While the investigation into Upper Big Branch is ongoing, the president ordered federal mining safety inspectors to take another look at mines across the country with “troubling safety records.”  Before the deadly explosion, more than 1,300 safety violations had been issued against the Montcoal mine since 2005.

Massey said in a statement that the president’s remarks are “regrettable. We fear that the president has been misinformed about our record and the mining industry in general.”  The company pointed out that last year, under Obama’s administration, that the Mine Safety and Health Administration presented Massey with three “Sentinels of Safety” Awards — which it claimed was the highest number of such awards received by one company in a single year.

Massey does not agree with a number of the violations cited at the mine, and has appealed them. However, it said, the percentage of violations appealed at Upper Big Branch and by Massey is similar to that for the industry as a whole. 

In his remarks, Obama said that about 16,000 such appeals clog the system. He wants to strengthen enforcement of existing laws to “close loopholes” that permit mine owners to file appeals for safety citations. Massey said the enormous backlog of appeals is “frustrating to all involved.” 

It added that the company is cooperating with federal and state agencies to determine the cause of the accident. “Unfortunately, some are rushing to judgment for political gain or to avoid blame.”

The company’s board of directors also issued a statement today saying it is committed to a thorough investigation of the explosion. “We are firm believers in accountability and will ensure that Massey Energy works with state and federal agencies to discover the cause of this terrible tragedy.” 


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