Massey Energy CEO says safety is top priority

Massey Energy CEO and chairman Don L. Blankenship told Congress that safety at his company's mines is the top priority, and seemed to suggest federal inspectors may be partially to blame for the catastrophe at the Upper Big Branch Mine-South last month.

Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee's Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee on May 20, Blankenship said Massey has never placed profits above safety, and Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors found Upper Big Branch to be in "good condition" days before the April 5 explosion killed 29 miners.

Further, Blankenship said the ventilation plan -- critical to disperse explosive methane in mines -- that MSHA required Upper Big Branch to have made the mine less safe and "significantly reduced" fresh air in the mine.

MSHA administrator Joseph A. Main rejected those assertions, noting his agency does not provide ventilation plans, only approves or disapproves plans mine operators submit.

Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the subcommittee, took issue with Blankenship's claim that safety was a top priority at Massey, reading a 2005 memo from the CEO stating that running coal was the top priority in mines.

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