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Vol. 76/No. 13      April 2, 2012

Deal lets bosses off hook
in 2007 Utah mine deaths
A four-year federal probe into the disaster at the Crandall Canyon coal mine in Emery County, Utah, that killed nine workers ended March 9 with a judge approving a deal letting the company off the hook for the mine’s collapse.

Crandall Canyon’s operator, Genwal Resources Inc., a subsidiary of Murray Energy Corp., which owns the mine, agreed in an out-of-court settlement to plead guilty to two misdemeanors and pay a $500,000 fine.

The first count said the company failed to rapidly report a cave-in in March 2007, five months before the disaster occurred. The second, that three days before the miners’ deaths Genwal Resources mined into a barrier of coal crucial for holding up a section of the mine roof in violation of regulations.

The plea deal says that no further charges can be brought against the mining companies or individuals.

On Aug. 6, 2007, six miners at the Crandall Canyon mine working 12-hour shifts nearly 2,000 feet underground were entombed when roof-supporting pillars collapsed. Ten days later three others were killed during rescue efforts when the mine imploded again.

“This is the most unjust settlement that I’ve ever seen,” Mike Dalpiaz, United Mine Workers District 22 president told the Militant from Price, Utah, in a phone interview. Crandall Canyon is a nonunion mine and the company has prevented the union from being part of investigations, Dalpiaz pointed out.

“I would have liked to have seen more drastic measures taken to make sure the people who were involved or helped cause this were held responsible,” Frank Allred, whose brother Kerry was killed in the collapse, told the Salt Lake Tribune.

A March 9 statement from Genwal Resources said “the agreement reflects the lack of evidence that any conduct by the Company caused the accidents of August 6 or 16, 2007. Genwal has always maintained that its plan for mining the Crandall Canyon Mine was safe—a belief that was shared by MSHA (which approved the plan).”

The company was using retreat mining, one of the most dangerous methods, in which pillars of coal that support the roof are mined as the crew retreats. Shortly before the collapse the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration approved its use where the miners were working.

At Congressional hearings held after the disaster, the Bureau of Land Management said that it warned in 2004 that further mining of roof support pillars at the mine was unsafe.

In another development, MSHA released a report March 6 admitting that it failed to enforce safety regulations at Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, W.Va., prior to an April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners. The report says that its inspectors failed to examine parts of the mine, including areas affected by the blast, and didn’t impose stiff penalties on the company despite repeated violations.

A week earlier a federal judge sentenced former Massey Energy’s security chief to three years in prison for obstructing a criminal probe into the Upper Big Branch explosion. A jury convicted Hughie Stover last October of lying to federal authorities about a company policy of providing advance notice that MSHA inspectors were arriving, and of ordering the destruction of more than 50,000 documents.
Related articles:
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American Crystal maintains lockout of 1,300
12-hour shifts underground ‘not safe,’ say Arizona miners
On the Picket Line
Class struggle, union power is answer to ‘right-to-work’
Atlanta rally protests state law attacking freedom of speech
Journey to picket lines of locked-out sugar workers  
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