Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Clinton Urges Tougher Sentences for Criminal Mine Safety Convictions

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Clinton Urges Tougher Sentences for Criminal Mine Safety Convictions

Article excerpt

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Wednesday called for action to toughen the penalties for criminal violations of federal mine safety rules, a long-stalled proposal that has been getting increasing attention in the wake of the conviction and sentencing of former Massey Energy Co. CEO Don Blankenship. The Clinton campaign included the proposal in a broader set of policy positions and initiatives titled, "Hillary Clinton's Plan to Fight for Environmental and Climate Justice.

"When companies and individuals break the law and expose communities to harm, they should be held accountable with appropriate criminal or civil enforcement under environmental, public health, and safety laws, the plan says.

The plan notes that six corporate officials from Freedom Industries "were allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanor violations of water pollution laws, and U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston said each official was "hardly a criminal, when sentencing most of them to probation and sending top Freedom officials Gary Southern and Dennis Farrell to jail for only a month.

Clinton's campaign also noted that Blankenship, convicted of conspiring to violate federal mine safety and health standards at the Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 workers died in an April 2010 explosion, received a maximum sentence of only one year in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The campaign's plan said Clinton would work to increase the penalties for violations of federal mine safety rules "so that they are felonies that carry the possibility of serious jail time.

Clinton's plan did not specifically endorse the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act, which has been been stalled in Congress for several years.

Clinton did not propose specific efforts to beef up Clean Water Act penalties like those involved in the Freedom cases, but the campaign said she would "direct Justice Department prosecutors to be just as tough on environmental criminals as they are on other criminals who endanger our communities.

In the Freedom cases, then-U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, now a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, brought rare water pollution charges against company officials over the January 2014 Elk River chemical spill. But Goodwin also agreed to plea deals that dropped felony bankruptcy charges against Southern, and after Goodwin left office, prosecutors did not aggressively seek jail time for the Freedom defendants.

Blankenship was sentenced last week. …

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