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Massey Adds Twist, Blames Regulators for Vent Problems « The Washington Independent

Even as federal mine-safety regulators are taking heat for not having done enough to close down the doomed West Virginia mine where 29 coal miners were killed this month, Massey Energy, the coal giant that owns the project, has another take: Federal regulators have been *too strict *in enforcing safety measures, Massey said today, forcing the company to install a “more complex” ventilation system in the Upper Big Branch mine that might have contributed to the disaster.

“It is important to note that the longwall at UBB was not operating with the same ventilation system that it began with in September 2009,” reads a Massey letter that was distributed to reporters today:

MSHA required us to change that system and we complied. Recognizing that professionals can reasonably disagree on the best method of ventilation at a mine, we have discovered the following: 1. that MSHA required several changes since that date that made the ventilation in this area more complex; 2. that the volume of fresh air to the face was significantly reduced during this period; and 3. that our engineers resisted making the changes, in one instance to the point of shutting down production for two days, before agreeing to MSHA’s ventilation plan changes.

This is quite a different explanation than the one the company was pushing in the immediate wake of the disaster, when Don Blankenship, Massey’s pugnacious CEO, was insisting that, as a result of the company’s dedication to safety, the conditions in the UBB were just fine for miners.

Ken Hechler, the former West Virginia congressman who was lead sponsor of a 1969 law that overhauled mining safety, said today that Blankenship’s early claims were “patently false.”

“You can see,” Hechler said by phone from his Charleston home, “that they’re trying to weasel their way out of the primary blame.”

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