Groups want Biden to penalize Massey for mine explosion

John O'Brien Jun. 8, 2011, 1:50pm

DOVER, Del. (Legal Newsline) - Two groups are asking Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden to take steps toward revoking the corporate charter of Massey Energy, the owner of a mine where 29 workers died in an April 2010 explosion.

Free Speech For People and Appalachian Voices wrote Biden, also encouraging an investigation of the company. Massey was recently purchased by Alpha Natural Resources for $7 billion and was found at fault for the explosion in a recent report commissioned by former West Virginia Gov. and current U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin.

The fatal explosion hit the Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County, W.Va. Massey, chartered in Delaware like many large companies, has claimed it was caused by an unpreventable buildup of gas.

"It is well established that the corporate charter is a privilege, not a right," says Jeff Clements, co-founder and general counsel for Free Speech For People.

"Delaware, as with other states, reserves the right to revoke or forfeit state corporate charters when they are abused or misused, as in cases of repeated unlawful conduct. The Massey Energy Company presents a classic case of a corporation whose charter should be revoked."

The report commissioned by Manchin said there is a culture at Massey that is "causing incalculable damage to mountains, streams and air in the coalfields; creating health risks for coalfield residents by polluting streams, injecting slurry into the ground and failing to control coal waste dams and dust emissions from processing plants; using vast amounts of money to influence the political system; and battling government regulation regarding safety in the coalmines and environmental safeguards for communities."

Clements says Massey cannot "merge its way out of accountability for its corporate misconduct."

Former Massey Chairman Bobby Inman released the company's report Friday. It calls the probe being conducted by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration "deeply flawed."

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