WASHINGTON May 16 A former coal executive who
last week finished a yearlong prison sentence for conspiring to
violate safety standards at a mine where a deadly blast
occurred, has urged U.S. President Donald Trump to "get to the
truth" about the incident.
Donald Blankenship, who was chief executive officer of
Massey Energy Co during the April 2010 explosion that killed 29
people at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, said
in a letter to Trump dated on Monday that former officials had
rushed to judge the accident before an investigation was
completed and that the media distorted the truth.
The letter said the Mine Safety and Health Administration
cut airflow to the miners, causing natural gas to inundate the
mine, and sparks from workers cutting sandstone ignited the gas.
"The truth needs to be told about what happened at UBB,"
Blankenship said in the letter. "If the truth is not told, coal
miners remain at risk of another tragedy."
A fire caused by a methane or natural gas leak probably set
off the blast at Massey's now-closed Upper Big Branch mine about
40 miles (65 km) south of Charleston, according to federal
In January, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected
Blankenship's effort to overturn his conviction and prison
Contrary to Blankenship's position, a mine operator is not
immune from criminal liability "by characterizing his mine's
repeated failure to comply with safety laws as a consequence of
tough decisions he had to make weighing production, safety, and
regulatory compliance," Circuit Judge James Wynn wrote then.
Blankenship also attempted to compare himself to Trump. "You
and I ... share relentless and false attacks on our reputation
by the liberal media," Blankenship said in a letter, a copy of
which Reuters saw.
A White House official had no comment.
Blankenship helped build Massey into Appalachia's largest
coal producer, with more than 7,000 employees and more than 40
In his letter, Blankenship urged Trump to split the MSHA
into two agencies, one to regulate the industry and one to
conduct investigations. He termed a measure introduced by
Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, to increase the
criminal liability for coal mine supervisors "a prime example of
The coal industry has suffered as power producers turn to
cheap natural gas to generate electricity and from environmental
rules put forward by former president Barack Obama, a Democrat,
that Trump, a Republican, is trying to dismantle.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)