CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Massey Energy stepped up its effort to criticize federal regulators following the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, pointing to an Illinois case where Department of Labor inspectors ordered additional ventilation controls and methane monitoring the company involved said wasn't needed.
Massey CEO Don Blankenship wrote to Gov. Joe Manchin and the governors of Kentucky, Illinois and Virginia about the case, saying it raised "grave and serious concerns" about the actions of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
In the letter, dated Monday, Blankenship warned the governors that "coal miners in your states are less safe because of MSHA-mandated ventilation plans that are currently in place in your states today."
MSHA refused comment Tuesday, saying it needed more time to review Blankenship's letter before responding to it.
Gov. Joe Manchin thanked Blankenship for his letter, and state mine safety chief Ron Wooten declined comment on the letter beyond a short prepared statement that said "there is not enough information to substantiate the allegations" made by Massey.
Massey has previously complained about MSHA-ordered ventilation plan changes, criticizing the agency at a news conference the day after the memorial service for the 29 miners killed in the April 5 explosion at Upper Big Branch.
The company has stopped just short of blaming the disaster on MSHA but emphasized in Blankenship's letter that the explosion occurred "just 26 days" after the company implemented the last change ordered by MSHA inspectors.
Methane and coal dust are constant threats in underground coal mines. Federal law requires all mines to operate according to MSHA-approved ventilation plans intended to sweep fresh air through a mine, and keep coal dust and methane below explosive levels. Ventilation plans include requirements for large fans and a series of walls, curtains and other devices to direct fresh and dirty air in and out of underground tunnels.
In his letter to the governors, Blankenship complained that MSHA officials have in the last year begun requiring underground mines that produce smaller amounts of methane to use ventilation systems more appropriate for more "gassy" mines in Western Pennsylvania and Northern West Virginia.