The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


March 3, 2013

Up the ladder: Continuing investigation of Massey's mine safety practices yielding results

As U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin’s office continues its investigation of how the former Massey Energy company handled safety matters in relation to its coal mining operations, another employee has pleaded guilty in federal court.

This time, however, it was markedly different.

David Hughart, former president of Massey’s White Buck Coal Co., admitted Thursday in federal court in Beckley that he conspired to impede federal mine inspections and violated mine health and safety laws.

Hughart is the highest-ranking Massey official to be prosecuted in this probe, a direct result of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in Montcoal that took the lives of 29 miners three years ago next month.

More blanks about Massey’s corporate attitude were filled in by Hughart when he told the court that he condoned and allowed underground crews to be notified when mine inspectors were on site.

And when U.S. District Court Judge Irene Berger asked Hughart if those warnings were company policy, Hughart said it was, it had been going on for years and it was ordered by the chief executive officer.

Fill that blank in with the name Don Blankenship.

Of course, even while Blankenship’s attorney was contacted for comment after Thursday’s court proceeding and quickly provided a blanket denial, Hughart’s testimony is damning.

It also lends additional credibility to stories that family members of the deceased UBB miners, and other miners have been telling all along — that such a practice of early warning was ordered and expected by those in the Massey hierarchy.

Goodwin and his staff have been methodically banging away during this investigation, and while it has been a lengthy process, and will likely continue that way, the case is being built and it’s moving up the chain of command.

All of those who played a role in this detestable practice need to be prosecuted and punished, no matter who they are.

Nothing less will suffice.

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