Thursday, July 07, 2016

Coal groups say conviction of former Massey Energy CEO wrongly puts execs at risk of criminal liability

Coal trade groups in Illinois, Ohio and West Virginia say the conviction and one-year prison sentence of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship "wrongly puts any coal executive at risk of criminal liability," Ken Ward Jr. reports for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Blankenship was convicted in December of conspiring to violate mine safety and health standards at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 miners died in an April 2010 explosion. (Gazette-Mail photo: Don Blankenship leaving the Charleston, W.Va. courthouse last year)

"Attorneys for the West Virginia Coal Association, the Illinois Coal Association and the Ohio Coal Association said in a 40-page brief: "Operating a coal mine is a difficult venture that presents tough decisions for its managers, who are required to navigate a regulatory minefield in order to operate a successful company. ... Those decisions, especially with respect to production, safety, and regulatory compliance, may at times be imperfect, prone to second-guessing, and, despite the best intentions, even incorrect. However, those decisions should not lead to criminal liability unless it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the individual possessed the 'evil purpose' necessary to establish that the conduct was illegal, not just general knowledge of the effects of broad regulatory involvement.”

The lawyers "suggest that Blankenship’s conviction, if upheld, could lead top coal executives to avoid becoming closely involved in safety and health decisions at their mines to avoid the potential for criminal prosecution," Ward writes. The brief states: “As such, it is imperative to clearly and definitively distinguish between legal and acceptable business practices for the lawful production of coal and willful criminal behavior. Without that distinction, one person may face serious criminal exposure for setting certain production goals while another may choose to insulate him or herself from receiving important information regarding safety and MSHA compliance for fear that such knowledge may subject them to criminal prosecution.” (Read more)

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