Justice Not Served in the Upper Big Branch Disaster Settlement

Dec. 6, 2011  

Justice Not Served in the Upper Big Branch Disaster Settlement

Statement of Justin Feldman, Worker Health and Safety Advocate, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

Justice is not served by today’s $210 million settlement between the government and coal mine operator Alpha Natural Resources for safety violations that led to the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. Alpha acquired Massey Energy, owner of the Upper Big Branch mine, which exploded on April 5, 2010, and killed 29 mine workers.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office should have prosecuted Alpha to hold the corporation criminally liable for the worker deaths. Instead, it opted for a non-prosecution agreement, in which there is no admission or finding of guilt – meaning a corporation can engage in reckless activity that leads to the deaths of 29 people and still escape criminal prosecution.

Under the terms of the settlement, Alpha will pay $1.5 million to each family of the deceased. No amount of money can bring back a loved one, but offering families this sum while former Massey CEO Don Blankenship enjoys his $33 million golden parachute is a grave injustice. Thankfully, the U.S. Attorney’s Office had the wisdom to leave the door open to criminal prosecution of individual Massey officers such as Don Blankenship, who pursued high profits at the cost of his workers’ lives. Public Citizen urges the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate top Massey officials like Blankenship and pursue accountability for wrongdoing.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration’s release today of its final report on the Upper Big Branch disaster will clear the way for the DOJ to begin criminal investigations. The families of the deceased and America’s mine workers deserve justice.

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