Beaver, W.Va. — In the biggest settlement ever reached in a U.S. mining disaster, the new owners of the West Virginia coal mine where 29 men were killed in an explosion agreed Tuesday to pay $210 million over a tragedy the government blamed on the ruthless pursuit of profits ahead of safety.
The money will go to compensate the grieving families, bankroll cutting-edge safety improvements and pay for years of violations by Massey Energy, owner of the Upper Big Branch mine at the time of the April 2010 blast.
Under the deal, Alpha Natural Resources, which bought Massey earlier this year, will face no criminal charges in the explosion as long as it abides by the settlement, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said.
But “no individuals are off the hook,” Goodwin warned, adding that federal prosecutors are still investigating former Massey managers.
Charges have been brought against only one person so far: the mine’s former security chief, Hughie Elbert Stover. A federal jury convicted him last month of lying to investigators and trying to destroy mine records. He is awaiting sentencing.
The settlement was bitterly criticized by some of the dead men’s relatives, who said they won’t be satisfied until charges are filed against those they consider responsible for the catastrophe, the nation’s deadliest mine accident in 40 years.
Gary Quarles, whose son Gary Wayne Quarles died in the disaster, said: “I want to hear names, and I want to know what they’re going to be charged for. Today would have been a fine day for them to have told us.”
Hours after the settlement was announced, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration released a final report on the blast that detailed 369 safety violations at Upper Big Branch, including 12 it said contributed to the explosion.