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Ken Ward Jr.

Staff writer
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Judge wants details of spill’s impact on prosecutors


A federal judge said Friday he wants some answers from U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and Goodwin’s top assistants about how they and their families were affected by the Freedom Industries chemical spill and the regi...

DEP lets Freedom into ‘voluntary’ toxic cleanup program


West Virginia regulators on Friday approved a request from Freedom Industries to enter into the state’s ‘voluntary’ toxic remediation program, a move that the bankrupt company says

Attorneys in Freedom Industries bankruptcy: ‘We just can’t wait any longer’


Lawyers for Kanawha Valley residents and businesses pressed Thursday for some action to free up $3 million in Freedom Industries’ insurance money, a move they said they hope will help compensa...

Blankenship pre-trial hearing postponed


A major hearing in the criminal case against former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has been postponed, according to a court order made public Thursday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge R. Clarke VanDerVort issued the order...

Blankenship lawyers: Half of those surveyed think he’s guilty


Lawyers for Don Blankenship say in a new court filing that about half of the people in the community where the former Massey Energy CEO faces criminal charges have already concluded that he is guilty.


Appalachian Labs employee sentenced in water quality scheme


BECKLEY, W.Va. -- A Raleigh County man was sentenced Wednesday to 21 months in prison for his role in a conspiracy to falsify coal industry water pollution tests at mining operations in Southern West Virginia.


Gazette, other news outlets appeal gag order in Blankenship case


Lawyers for The Charleston Gazette and other news organizations on Friday appealed a gag order that has limited access to information about the criminal case against former Massey Energy Co. CEO Don ...

Kanawha drinking water rule advances


A Department of Environmental Protection rule to extend drinking water protections to the Kanawha River advanced Friday to the House floor, minus any ind...

Fires continue to slow probe of W.Va. derailment


Small fires continued to burn Thursday at the site of the oil-train crash in Fayette County, hampering federal and state investigators as they begin to piece together what caused the latest in a series of such incidents ...

Fayette incident comes amid huge jump in oil-train accidents


This week’s huge crude oil train derailment in Fayette County comes amid a skyrocketing number of such incidents across the country that experts say points to outdated equipment, inadequate planning and insufficie...

Derailment highlights crude oil train, water safety issues


Early in the morning on July 6, 2013, a 72-car runaway train carrying crude oil from North Dakota to New Brunswick, Canada, crashed...

Lawmakers urged to keep drinking water protections


CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Environmentalists turned out Monday to urge West Virginia lawmakers not to eliminate the longstanding application of drinking water protections to almost all rivers and streams across the state...

Freedom bankruptcy case at crossroads


With available funds dwindling and millions in claims pending over the January 2014 Elk River chemical leak, the Freedom Industries bankruptcy case appears to be at a crossroads.

No clear plan for resolving the cas...

Freedom Industries plea hearings set


CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A federal judge has scheduled plea hearings for next month for Freedom Industries and four former Freedom officials. All are expected to plead guilty to Clean Water Act crimes in connection wit...

Coal lobby bill removes longstanding safety protections


On July 1, 2010, electrician Wilbert “Ray” Starcher was killed when he was run over by a shuttle car deep inside White Buck Coal Co.’s Pocahontas Mine, in Greenbrier County.

A co-worker driving...

Two Freedom officials to plead guilty, prosecutors say


Two former Freedom Industries officials who were indicted on Clean Water Act charges have agreed to plead guilty in the government’s case over the January 2014 Elk River chemical leak that contaminated the drinkin...

Bills would weaken water protections


CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A year after a toxic leak contaminated drinking water for 300,000 residents, West Virginia lawmakers are considering a series of proposals that would weaken a new chemical tank safety law, remo...

Blankenship alleges ‘vindictive and selective prosecution’


Don Blankenship is being unfairly singled out for prosecution, the former Massey CEO’s lawyers argue, according to a document unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court in Beckley.

Dozens of pre-trial filings by...

Blankenship files motions to dismiss case, disqualify judge


Lawyers for Don Blankenship have filed a dozen motions to dismiss the criminal case against the former Massey Energy Co. chief executive officer, as well as a motion to disqualify the judge in the case, limited publicly ...

Blankenship sues Alpha over mounting legal fees


Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship sued Alpha Natural Resources this week, alleging that the company has reneged on an agreement requiring Alpha to pay his mounting legal costs — already...

DEP clarifies number of tanks exempt under bill


CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Department of Environmental Protection officials on Friday clarified their estimate of the number of chemical storage tan...

Labor, environmental groups join forces to oppose coal industry-backed bill


Representatives of working coal miners and from the state’s environmental community turned out Thursday to oppose a legislative initiative from the West Virginia Coal Association, saying the b...

Bill could leave only 90 tanks covered by rules, W.Va. DEP data show


As few as 90 of the thousands of chemical storage tanks across West Virginia might be covered by new state Department of Environmental Protection safety requirements passed after last year’s F...

Drinking water fight looms in W.Va. Statehouse


Members of a Senate committee delayed action Wednesday on a Department of Enviro...

Bill would exempt thousands of tanks from post-spill safety law


Thousands of chemical storage tanks across West Virginia would be exempt from the law passed in the wake of the Freedom Industries spill, under legislation introduced Tuesday in the House of Delegates.

The bill (

Obama’s budget includes coalfields aid


CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Coalfield communities struggling with mounting job losses as the nation’s energy markets restructure would receive hundreds of millions of dollars in new money to help create jobs and pl...

Blankenship lawyers want more time to look at media coverage


Lawyers for former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship want more time to gather and review television coverage so they can argue in favor of moving Blankenship’s criminal trial out of Southern West Virginia, accordi...

DEP concerned about flexibility on EPA’s power plant rules


Lawmakers should be cautious in limiting the flexibility state regulators have to draw up a plan for West Virginia to meet the Obama administration’s eventual rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fir...

Freedom executives re-arraigned on new indictment


Four Freedom Industries executives were re-arraigned Thursday afternoon on charged contained in a new indictment related to their involvement in the January 2014 chemical spill at the company’s Elk River operation...

Chemical safety advocates want accident prevention plan enacted


Henry Clark remembers growing up in the shadow of the huge Chevron refinery in Richmond, California. Leaks, fires and all manner of incidents were a common part of life.

“The air would be so foul that I had ...

UBB families ask judge to throw out gag order


Families of the victims of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster on Thursday asked a federal judge to lift her gag order in the Don Blankenship criminal case so they can testify freely to West Virginia lawmakers about bills...

Freedom’s Southern faces additional charges


Former Freedom Industries President Gary Southern is facing two new criminal charges this week, after a federal grand jury in Beckley handed up an indictment that supersedes the one issued last month.


Debate highlights W.Va.’s inaction on energy diversity, efficiency


As lawmakers move to dismantle West Virginia’s six-year-old alternative-energy law, they tout their action as another effort to help the state’s declining coal industry.

However, state records show th...

Changes could leave thousands of chemical tanks out of regulations


Changes that industry groups are promoting for West Virginia’s new chemical tank safety law would allow thousands of tanks located “in close proximity” to drinking water intakes ...

Governor’s speech leaves out water, touts coal and urges more drilling


The Freedom Industries chemical spill and the resulting water crisis a year ago didn’t make Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s State of the State address Wednesday night, but the governor did highlight his continued o...

Tomblin calls for study of increased deaths from gas-drilling boom


Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is calling for a study aimed at reversing the increase in workplace deaths that has accompanied the boom in natural gas drilling and production from the Marcellus Shale fields in Northern West Virgi...

Study finds contaminants in natural gas wastewater


Scientists from Duke University and two other institutions have discovered high levels of two potentially hazardous contaminants in wastewater discharged or spilled into streams and rivers from oil and gas operations in ...

Lines forming over climate-change curriculum


Academics and citizen groups are gearing up opposition to the West Virginia Board of Education’s alterations to science education standards on...

MSHA finalizes ‘proximity detection’ rule for mines


‘Proximity detection’ will save miners from being killed by continuous mining machines

By Ken Ward Jr.

Staff writer

Coal operators around the country will be required to install lif...

Audit: EPA pressure improved pollution permits


Increased scrutiny by the Obama administration has led to better state Department of Environmental Protection reviews of water pollution permit applications from West Virginia’s coal-mining industry, according to ...

Fourth Freedom official released pending March trial


The fourth former Freedom Industries official indicted in connection with last January’s chemical leak on the Elk River appear...

Blankenship in contact with ‘central witness’ in criminal case, court records show


Former Massey Energy Co. CEO Don Blankenship has been in contact with what his lawyers called the “central witness” in the criminal case against him, but the defense lawyers said Blankenship has not tried t...

On MCHM leak anniversary, groups get set for push to relax water protections


As they gathered to mark the one-year anniversary of the Elk River chemical leak, residents and a few government officials braced themselves for what they expect to be a major push to undo some new and some longstanding ...

Report outlines W.Va.’s chemical leak missteps


In its most frank assessment since last year’s leak at Freedom Industries, the Tomblin administration said Friday that West Virginia had inadequate environmental regulations to prevent such an incident and lacked ...

Freedom Industries chemical leak: Where things stand


Here is a roundup of where things stand on various aspects of the Jan. 9, 2014, Freedom Industries chemical leak story:

| Water testing — Despite

A year later: Chemical spills continue, and so do questions


The 13 white tanks that lined the Elk River just north of downtown Charleston are all gone now. Bankrupt Freedom Industries ripped them apart, tore them down and sold them for scrap.

Feds: Freedom knew about problems for years


Freedom Industries knew about serious problems with the spill-containment dikes at the company’s Elk River facility years before the leak in January 2014 that contaminated the drinking water s...

Unsealed records describe disputes over Blankenship travel to Las Vegas


Former Massey Energy Co. CEO Don Blankenship was allowed to travel to Las Vegas for Thanksgiving but was blocked from taking a similar trip for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, according to newly unsealed co...

Judge refuses to drop gag order in Blankenship case


A federal judge on Wednesday declined to lift a gag order that restricts access to most court records in former Massey Energy Co. CEO Don Blankenship’s criminal case.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger did agr...

Marshall County plant loses fracking fight


CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A West Virginia judge has thrown out new legal challenges to a plan for natural gas production near a Marshall County chemical plant.

Late in December, Marshall Circuit Judge David W. Hum...