Scott Statement on Conviction of Don Blankenship, Former Chairman and CEO of the Massey Energy Company
WASHINGTON – Ranking Member Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03) issued the following statement after a federal jury found Don Blankenship, Former Chairman and CEO of the Massey Energy Company, conspired to violate mine safety and health standards at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 miners died in an April 2010 explosion:
“While I am pleased that there is some measure of justice for the miners and their families at Upper Big Branch mine – and commend the U.S. Attorney and his team for their diligent efforts – it is clear that the sanctions available under current law are weak.
“I am troubled that criminal behavior involving a conspiracy to commit willful violations of mandatory mine safety and health standards can only result in a mere misdemeanor penalty that cannot exceed one year in prison even when a mine operator recklessly exposes a miner to significant risk of serious injury, serious illness or death.
“A misdemeanor sanction is a woefully insufficient deterrent for criminal conduct for an operator who repeatedly puts production ahead of safety requirements. And, it is especially troubling, given that this mine operator had other mine operations that had also been subject to criminal misdemeanor penalties involving the preventable death of miners. This supports the inference that the existing misdemeanor penalties are insufficient to deter this degree of criminal conduct. In other aspects of federal law, Congress has enacted severe felony penalties for criminal conduct that results in serious injury, illness, or death of the victim, particularly when the defendant is a repeat offender.
“The Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act (H.R. 1926) – a bill I introduced earlier this year – would reform the outdated criminal provisions in the Mine Act by imposing a felony penalty with a maximum prison sentence of up to five years, or up to $1 million in penalties for cases where a mine operator knowingly violates a mandatory health or safety standard and recklessly exposes a miner to significant risk of serious injury, serious illness or death.
“Regrettably, Congress has failed to act on this proposal over the past five years. It strains commonsense that, under existing law, accusations of securities fraud or false statements to the government could have resulted in decades in prison. But the jury’s finding of a willful violation of mandatory mine health and safety standards which endangered miners’ lives resulted in a sentence that cannot exceed one year in prison.”
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