Former Massey coal executive sentenced to three years in prison for endangering miners’ lives

Don Blaneknship, former CEO of Massey Energy speaking at the Friends of America Labour Day rally in 2009 | Video from YouTube

A former Massey Energy coal executive has been sentenced to 3 and a half years in prison for his involvement in a corruption scandal that shed light on the deaths of dozens of coal miners in 2010.

David Hughart, 54, admitted in February that he conspired with other workers to help warn miners of upcoming surprise safety inspections, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Although Hughart never worked at the site where an explosion killed 30 people several years ago, his cooperation with the criminal investigation revealed scheming within the company which resulted in lax safety measures and ultimately the country’s worst coal mining disaster in 40 years.

The incident occurred at the company’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. Hughart was president of Massey’s subsidiary White Buck Coal although he left the company several days before the explosion.

Federal regulators say the mines ignored even basic safety practices such as preventing the build-up of coal dust.

Of the three Massey managers convicted in the incident, Hughart’s sentence is the longest. A former security chief at Upper Big Branch was given three years and a superintendent 21 months. 

During the trial Hughart implicated former Massey CEO, Don Blankenship. The ex-CEO denies any involvement and has not been charged.

Since the explosion Massey has changed ownership and management. Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE:ANR) bought the miner in June 2011 for $7.1 billion.

According to the US bureau of labour statistics, fatal injuries in coal mining increased slightly in 2012, with deaths in the private mining sector overall reaching their highest levels since 2007.

The Upper Big Branch explosion led US regulators to tighten coal mine safety rules in 2012.