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Mine owner says recent accidents rare

February 19, 2006|By DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -

The owner of the Aracoma Coal Alma No. 1 mine in Melville, W.Va., where two miners died Jan. 19, said Saturday he feels the safety measures in place at his mines exceed state and federal regulations and that the onus rests on mine workers, not those who run the mines, to look after their own safety.

"As far as avoiding accidents, the industry avoids thousands of accidents every year," said Don L. Blankenship, chairman, CEO and president of the Massey Energy Co. of Richmond, Va. "Most often, the problem is not the safety rules, it's the day to day (activities of mine workers). Anything you do every day, you sort of take it for granted."

Blankenship, chief executive officer of West Virginia's largest mining company and a financial contributor to Republican campaigns in the state, delivered the keynote speech Saturday at the Berkeley County Republican Club's annual Lincoln Day Dinner at Martinsburg Moose Lodge 120.

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David Michael Myers, president of the Republican Club, said Blankenship was chosen "because of his great efforts of trying to help West Virginia come out of its economic doldrums."

About 200 people were expected to attend the event, which included remarks by U.S. Senate candidate John R. Raese, who is vying for the Republican nomination to run against incumbent Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

Blankenship focused his keynote address on issues involving smaller government and lower taxes, including calling for the state to eliminate the food tax and other taxes in an effort to attract industry to West Virginia.

"When you think about it, we'd be better off if we didn't have the legislature in Charleston," Blankenship said during his speech. "We'd be better off than if they didn't do anything."

Blankenship said before the speech that he believes the Aracoma mine explosion was caused by fire in the belt, the mechanism that brings coal from the interior of the mines to the surface. He said he believes that type of explosion, and the Jan. 2 Sago Mine explosion in Upshur County that killed 12 workers, is rare and statistically insignificant.

The Mine Safety Health Administration issued four citations to Massey earlier this month tied to the Aracoma mine, according to published reports. The citations, issued Feb. 2 and 9, alleged violations of rules concerning ventilation and the use of explosives.

The administration issued more than 90 citations to the Aracoma mine last year, according to published reports.

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