Published on:

West Virginia Mine Super Charged in 2010 Disaster

According to a recent article in The New York Times, federal charges were filed against Gary May a superintendent of the West Virginia coal mine where an explosion killed 29 workers in 2010.
The charges, filed in federal court in West Virginia, include conspiracy to defraud the United States by impeding a federal agency, a felony that is punishable by up to five years in prison. The documents state May directed workers to falsify record books and spoke to them in code as a warning when inspectors were coming so workers could conceal violations and avoid penalties.
Charges also include changing the ventilation system in the mine just before federal inspectors arrived to make it appear that the parts of the mine being examined by inspectors had better air than they actually did.
“Mine safety and health laws were routinely violated,” the charging document stated, “in part because of a belief that following those laws would decrease coal production.”
The article states May began working at the Upper Big Branch mine Feb. 2008 as a foreman according to the charging document and was promoted to superintendent in 2009, holding that position through April 5, 2010, when the explosion happened.
May is the third and most senior supervisor to be charged in the what has been called the worst mining accident in the United States in 40 years. Last year charges were brought against the mine’s security chief and a foreman.
Legal observers are saying May’s charges indicate that prosecutors are getting closer to Massey Energy executives, the company who ran the mine which has since been bought by Alpha Natural Resources.
The New York Times article states May became an employee of an Alpha subsidiary after that company acquired Massey Energy last year but has been placed on administrative leave.
The article also states the way the charges were filed — directly to the court by prosecutors from the United States attorney’s office, instead of by a grand jury indictment — indicates that May is cooperating with prosecutors, a strategy that could eventually lead prosecutors to top executives, including Don L. Blankenship, the former head of Massey, who state investigations say cut corners and ignored risks to make a profit.
“They’re moving up in the food chain,” Tony Oppegard, a Kentucky lawyer who defends miners, said in the Times article. “This will cause some sleepless nights for people high up in the corporate ladder.”