By JESSICA FARRISH
BECKLEY, W.Va. — About 75 people gathered Thursday to hear former Massey Energy CEO and U.S. Senate candidate Don Blankenship make a campaign pitch at a town hall style meeting at Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center. The campaign stop was the second for Blankenship in the Republican primary race.
Blankenship was released from federal prison earlier this year after serving one year on a misdemeanor conviction of conspiracy to violate mine safety laws in the April 2010 explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine at a Massey subsidiary near Marsh Fork, which killed 29 men.
Blankenship and a few miners at the event Thursday said that MSHA, the federal agency responsible for both enforcing regulations and investigating mine safety events, was responsible for the ventilation plan that resulted in the deadly explosion. “I’m not anti-MSHA,” Blankenship said. “I just think these guys made a horrible mistake.”
Blankenship theorized that the Aracoma Alma Mine accident in 2006, caused when a conveyor belt caught fire, led MSHA investigators from Pennsylania to take the position that southern West Virginia mines did not need belt air and forced them to cut belt air entry, reducing mine ventilation by half.
“That’s why the mine exploded,” he said, adding, “I don’t think they intended to blow the mine up.
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