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Feds Close Massey Mine for 'Egregious' Safety Lapses

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Miners and their family members hold a vigil for those killed in an explosion at Massey Energy Company's Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montocal, West Virginia on April 5, 2010.
Miners and their family members hold a vigil for those killed in an explosion at Massey Energy Company's Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montocal, West Virginia on April 5, 2010.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Notorious coal baron Don Blankenship was supposed to be long gone now, partying with his pals on the French Riviera or, according to a lawyer friend of mine in West Virginia, making himself comfortable in a new $3.5 million house on a lake in Tennessee.

But apparently the Blankenship spirit lives on.

Blankenship, you'll recall, was the long-time CEO and Chairman of Massey Energy, the company that owned the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia where 29 miners were killed in an explosion last April.  Blankenship resigned from the company at the end of last year after an investigation into the causes of the explosion revealed Blankenship's long history of putting profits above worker's safety and, for that matter, the rule of law.  His departure was seen as a victory for mine safety advocates and a big step toward reigning in outlaw coal operators in Appalachia.

Or maybe not. Yesterday NPR reported that federal regulators evacuated coal miners from portions of a Massey mine in West Virginia after a surprise inspection revealed two dozen safety violations that could have sparked fires or explosions.  Among the violations: excessive coal dust, the same condition that is believed to have contributed to the violent explosion at Upper Big Branch. 

"The conduct and behavior exhibited when we caught the mine operator by surprise is nothing short of outrageous," Assistant Secretary of Labor Joe Main told NPR. "The conditions observed at Randolph Mine place miners at serious risk to the threat of fire, explosion and black lung."

Main also says some mining companies "still aren't getting it ... despite the tragedy at Upper Big Branch last year."

Don Blankenship: Gone, but clearly not forgotten.

Related: The Dark Lord of Coal Country by Jeff Goodell: The Rolling Stone investigation that forced the resignation of Don Blankenship, the coal industry’s dirtiest CEO

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