UBB

Howard Berkes / NPR

Ten years ago, on April 5, 2010, 29 men who worked at an underground coal mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia, lost their lives. The Upper Big Branch Mining Memorial Group, Inc. has placed wreaths at the monument in Raleigh County on April 5 every year since. But this year, they aren’t encouraging family members to visit, due to the spread of COVID-19.

Blankenship Trial
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An outspoken critic of President Barack Obama charged with conspiring to violate mine safety rules before a deadly explosion is under orders not to tell jurors he's being persecuted by Democrats.

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In ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's criminal trial, prosecutors have started replaying phone calls that the executive secretly recorded in his office.

Sketch artist Jesse Corlis

Former Massey CEO Don Blankenship stood with three attorneys as he pleaded not guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court in Beckley. Blankenship was indicted on charges of conspiring to violate mine safety rules and then lying about it.  Blankenship appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge R. Clarke VanDervort.   

Families Can't Hide Their Emotions

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A federal Magistrate has denied former Massey CEO Don Blankenship’s request to delay arraignment proceedings.

According to court records, Magistrate Judge R. Clarke VanDervort denied Blankenship’s request to postpone his initial court appearance. VanDervort ordered Blankenship to appear in court, surrender his passport, prepare to meet and discuss his financial circumstances, and other actions to prepare for court proceedings.

The former Massey CEO  is set to be arraigned in federal court on Thursday. The former leader of what was once one of the largest coal producers in the country Massey Energy CEO, Don Blankenship was indicted by the United States Attorney’s Office on two mine safety charges, lying to the securities and exchange commission and securities fraud.

The decision to proceed this week with his arraignment comes days after the judge presiding over Blankenship’s criminal case issued a gag order for the parties involved.

WV Division of Culture and History

Once considered untouchable, former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship was indicted on four federal charges in connection with the Upper Big Branch Disaster that killed 29 men in 2010. It’s news that folks in the coalfields never thought would happen.

In this episode, we’ll hear a special investigative series of reports about outlaw coal mining companies that keep operating despite injuries, violations and millions in fines.

And a new lawsuit has just been filed on behalf of the 78 coal miners who died in the Farmington Mine Disaster. We’ll hear memories from Sarah Kasnoski, one of the widows who lost her husband on that fateful date, November 20, 1968. 

Investigating Outlaw Mines That Keep Operating Despite Delinquent Fines

A recent investigative report has uncovered that some coal companies are working the system to avoid paying fines. The report also finds a connection between skirted financial penalties and injured coal miners: mines with more delinquent fines also have higher rates of injured workers.

NPR and Mine Safety and Health News sifted through citations, and documents for more than a year to find the connection. NPR’s Howard Berkes says it was no easy task. Each delinquent fine has a different start date, so tracking the injuries associated with the delinquent fines was complicated. In this episode, we hear the first three of these reports. We also talk with Berkes about mine safety and the development of these investigations.

Gary Quarles lost his son in the Upper Big Branch disaster. Since then, he's looked for peace, understanding and justice.

Quarles wanted to see Don Blankenship held accountable for the conditions at the mine and the death of his son.

Blankenship's Reputation

Quarles worked for Massey Energy as buggy operator for nine years and he knows first hand what kind of operation Blankenship was running.

“Don Blankenship’s name was known throughout Massey," he said.

The government says that the number of chronic safety violators among mine operators has fallen sharply in recent years.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration says the number has dropped in response to reforms the agency has taken to rein in mines cited frequently for safety violations.

Prior to 2010 no mine had ever been placed on a pattern of violations, or POV status. Safety reforms aligned the POV regulatory rule, with Congress’s original intent in enacting the Mine Act.
 

Let's look back at the Upper Big Branch Disaster to see what does it take to change coal culture?

Remembering the worst coal mining disaster in history so history does not repeat.

Wheeling Jesuit University hopes you'll join them to "Celebrate Appalachia".

Local maple syrup could be threatened by climate change.

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Families of the victims are bracing for another anniversary of the Upper Big Branch Disaster; an explosion that ripped so violently through an underground coal mine in Raleigh County it left metal and sent a blast of air miles from the source.

Former UBB miner and survivor of that fateful day, Stanley “Goose” Stewart remembered during a speech he gave about a year after the blast.  

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

CONSOL Energy sells five longwall mines to Murray Energy, the families of Upper Big Branch Mine victims speak out against a Halloween attraction at King's Dominion, and the first in a series of Halloween stories on the Whipple Company Store.

Kings Dominion does not plan to host the attraction in 2014.
KingsDominion.com

Kings Dominion does not plan to host a Halloween themed attraction called, Miner's Revenge next year.

The Virginia-based amusement park does not plan to host a Halloween themed attraction called, Miner's Revenge next year. The  park charged more than $32 for admission during the weekends in October. The haunted attraction's similarities to the Upper Big Branch disaster similarities infuriated the families of the victims. Some have said it’s eerily similar to their real life nightmare.

Patriot Coal

Patriot Coal is responding to recent actions from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. Yesterday, Thursday MSHA released a statement stating that the agency had labeled two West Virginia coal mines and one in Kentucky as pattern violators, meaning they've repeatedly broken federal health and safety regulations.

A mine in McDowell County is among several operations cited during impact inspections for safety violations last month. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration announced the results Thursday.  

An impact inspection conducted at a JJ & E Coal Corporation’s mine in McDowell County resulted in: eight unwarrantable failure orders, one task training order, one imminent danger order and 36 citations.

A mine safety law that’s been on the books since 1977 was intended to give miners the ability to report problems without retribution. This is a law that’s rarely been used and often when it has  managers and not working miners serve as the representatives.