State Says Massey CEO Won’t Testify in Mine Explosion Probe

December 14, 2010

Outgoing Massey Energy executive Don Blankenship is refusing to testify as planned next week about the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine, state mine safety officials said.

Deputy Director Eugene White said the Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training got a letter from Blankenship’s attorney last Friday, informing the state that Blankenship won’t appear today, Tuesday, to discuss the April 5 blast that killed 29 men and injured two in southern West Virginia.

Last week state officials said lawyers for Massey had reached an agreement for Blankenship to testify.

“We have received a document that he is going to exercise his 5th Amendment rights,” White said, declining to elaborate.

Virginia-based Massey declined comment and referred questions about the letter to Blankenship’s attorney Bill Taylor, who did not immediately respond to a telephone message.

Other Massey employees have also refused to speak to investigators.

Blankenship stunned West Virginia and the coal industry a week ago by announcing he will retire Dec. 31 and end a 28-year career with Massey.

The company named Baxter Phillips Jr. its new CEO, while retired Adm. Bobby Inman, a board director, will serve as chairman.

Blankenship, who has held both of those posts since 2000, leaves as Massey’s safety practices are under scrutiny by federal and state mining regulators.

The Upper Big Branch blast was the worst U.S. coal mining disaster since 1970 and is now the subject of both civil and criminal investigations.

Blankenship has regularly professed to make safety a high priority, yet his company is frequently cited by federal regulators.

The Charleston Gazette posted a copy of Blankenship’s letter online.

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