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Alpha Decision to Keep Massey Executives Questioned by Democrats

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May 31 (Bloomberg) -- Alpha Natural Resources Inc.’s decision to retain top executives of Massey Energy Co., owner of the West Virginia coal mine where 29 workers died last year, is being questioned by two Democratic lawmakers.

“Keeping miners safe requires not only compliance with minimum safety standards, but also a culture where senior managers place safety ahead of production in practice, not merely words,” Representatives George Miller and Lynn Woolsey, California Democrats, said in a letter to Alpha Chief Executive Officer Kevin Crutchfield. “That approach was not followed at Massey Energy, which cost many miners their lives.”

Alpha will retain Massey CEO Baxter Phillips, Chief Operating Officer Chris Adkins and General Counsel Shane Harvey, according to an April 15 letter to employees cited by Miller and Woolsey. The lawmakers, members of a House committee that oversees mining issues, said they are “troubled by indications” that Alpha “thinks that miners are fairly served by perpetuating Massey’s safety culture for even one minute longer.”

A report by a West Virginia investigator on May 19 found that Massey is to blame for the fatal explosion at its Upper Big Branch mine last year, the deadliest U.S. mining disaster in 40 years. The disaster was preventable had Massey followed basic, well-tested safety-procedures, according to the report.

Massey disagreed with the state conclusion that a buildup of coal dust led to the blast. Harvey on May 19 said the company believes a massive inundation of natural gas is to blame.

In January, Massey agreed to be acquired by Alpha Natural Resources Inc. for $7.1 billion.

Ted Pile, a spokesman for Alpha, didn’t immediately return a telephone message seeking comment. Massey Energy had no comment on the letter, according Micah Ragland, a spokesman for the company.

To contact the reporter on this story: Holly Rosenkrantz in Washington at hrosenkrantz@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net

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