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Massey Units Sue Mine Regulator Over Ventilation

Massey Energy Co., owner of the West Virginia mine where 29 people were killed in April, sued the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, saying the agency rejected ventilation methods that would have benefited underground workers.

In a lawsuit made public today in federal court in Washington, six Massey units ask a judge to rule that defendants including the U.S. Labor Department lack the authority to dictate how to ventilate mines. Such decisions are better left to mining companies, the units said.

“We hope the principal beneficiary will be miners, who will have cleaner air, safer mines, and more secure jobs,” Don Blankenship, chief executive officer of Richmond, Virginia-based Massey, said in a statement.

The April 5 explosion was the worst U.S. coal mining accident in 40 years. The Labor Department said in a preliminary report to President Barack Obama in April that most mine blasts of that magnitude are sparked by accumulations of methane, combustible coal dust and air.

Massey has said that the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration forced it to install a complex ventilation system in the so-called longwall area, where the miners were working when the explosion occurred, months before the accident.

Government agencies “have unreasonably refused to approve” the Massey units’ own ventilation plans “on a variety of arbitrary grounds,” according to the complaint.

Miners testifying in May blamed the mine’s ventilation system, which let explosive methane build up, for the blast.

Red Flags

Stanley Stewart, who worked for 15 years at Massey’s Upper Branch Mine, told lawmakers that the mine was filled with “red flags,” including constant low air and excessive methane where miners work.

Amy Louviere, a spokeswoman for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said in an e-mailed message that the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Massey fell 44 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $30.69 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading at 10:04 a.m. The shares have declined more than 40 percent since the explosion.

The case is Elk Run Coal Co. v. U.S. Department of Labor, 10-cv-01056, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia.

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