As then-Gov. Joe Manchin did following the mine explosion, Tomblin has declined to take up a package of mine safety reform measures recommended by independent investigator Davitt McAteer. In Washington, Republicans have managed so far to defeat mine safety legislation proposed by Democrats and backed by the Obama administration.
On Thursday and Friday, McAteer and Wheeling Jesuit University will host the university's fourth annual Mining Health and Safety Symposium. The event at the Charleston Civic Center will feature a panel discussion by members of various government investigation teams looking into Upper Big Branch.
Investigators believe the explosion involved the ignition of a small amount of methane gas that was propelled into a huge blast by a buildup of highly explosive coal dust in the Upper Big Branch Mine.
So far, two people have been charged in the criminal probe of the disaster.
A one-time Massey worker has agreed to plead guilty after he was charged with faking his credentials when he performed required mine safety tests at the mine for nearly two years between January 2008 and August 2009. That man, Thomas Harrah of Seth, is scheduled for a plea hearing on April 13 in federal court in Beckley.
A Massey security director, Hughie Elbert Stover, has pleaded innocent to charges that he tried to destroy evidence and lied to investigators about the company's policy regarding warning underground workers about federal inspections. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Irene Berger agreed to delay Stover's trial from April 25 to July 18. Stover had asked for a delay until October or November.
Also Monday, Richmond, Va.-based Massey announced it would hold a moment of silence and conduct a "safety stand down" at all of its underground mines to mark the disaster anniversary.
"As the one-year anniversary of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion approaches, Massey Energy continues to extend our sincere condolences and heartfelt sympathies to those families and communities who lost loved ones in this tragic accident," Massey said in a statement. "The company remains fully committed to a thorough and comprehensive investigation that seeks to identify the primary causes of the explosion and provide answers to the UBB families and the communities we serve in Central Appalachia."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.