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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Alpha Natural Resources has made "great strides in addressing the systematic problems it inherited" when it purchased Massey Energy after the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Monday.
In a press release, Goodwin praised Alpha's spending on new safety equipment, creation of a safety research trust fund, the start of construction of a new training facility, and "remedial safety maintenance" at former Massey operations.
Alpha has reduced the overall accident rate at former Massey mines by nearly a third and cut the injury rate by nearly one-forth, according to statistics cited by Goodwin's office.
But so far, Goodwin declined to release the actual report that Alpha filed on its progress, complying with a December deal in which prosecutors agreed not to bring corporate criminal charges against Alpha and its former Massey subsidiary, Performance Coal, over the April 2010 explosion.
Alpha has claimed the report contains "confidential and proprietary commercial and financial information" exempt from release under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Justice Department officials have not yet responded to a Gazette FOIA request for the entire report.
On Monday, Goodwin made public only a five-page cover letter in which Alpha lawyer Victor Hou touted the company's safety efforts. Ted Pile, an Alpha spokesman, did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Alpha executives and coalfield political leaders have said the company's much-promoted "Running Right" safety program would reform practices at the former Massey operations. But a series of problems -- including two deaths in West Virginia this year and a conveyor belt incident that prompted a federal inspection sweep -- have raised new questions about Alpha's success.
"A lot has been accomplished," Goodwin said in an interview. "But there are still pockets of the former Massey operations that need significant improvement."
Information about the Alpha progress report comes more than two years after a massive methane and coal dust explosion rocked the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, killing 29 workers in the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in nearly 40 years.
Federal, state and independent investigations have blamed widespread safety violations, including a systematic failure by Massey management to comply with rules aimed at controlling the buildup of explosive coal dust underground. Goodwin's office is continuing a criminal investigation of individuals thought to be responsible for the disaster, but agreed in December 2011 not to bring charges against Alpha, which acquired Upper Big Branch, and any liabilities associated with it in a June 2011 buyout of Massey.
As part of the more than $200 million settlement, Alpha agreed to install significant new safety technology, create a trust to fund health and safety research, and take other steps to improve safety practices, especially at the former Massey operations.