The Department of Justice announced it had reached a settlement with Alpha Natural Resources, which took responsibility for the UBB mine when it purchased and merged Massey Energy with its operations earlier this year; and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) released the final report on its investigation.

Alpha agreed to make payments and safety investments totaling $209 million in connection with the criminal investigation of an explosion at the UBB mine located near Montcoal, W.Va., on April 5, 2010. “Today’s agreement represents the largest-ever resolution in a criminal investigation of a mine disaster and will ensure appropriate steps are taken to improve mine safety now and will fund research to enhance mine safety in the future,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. “While we continue to investigate individuals associated with this tragedy, this historic agreement—one of the largest payments ever for workplace safety crimes of any type—will help to create safer work environments for miners in West Virginia and across the country.”

As part of a “non-prosecution” agreement, Alpha will invest at least $80 million in mine safety improvements at all of its underground mines, including those formerly owned by Massey. Alpha will also place $48 million in a mine health and safety research trust, to be used to fund academic and non-profit research that will advance efforts to enhance mine safety. In addition, the company will pay restitution of $1.5 million to each of the families of the 29 miners who died at UBB and to the two individuals who were injured, for a total restitution payment of $46.5 million. Alpha also will pay a total of up to $34.8 million in penalties owed to MSHA, including all penalties that arise from the UBB accident investigation.

This settlement, according to DoJ, is the largest-ever resolution in a criminal investigation of a mine disaster. It addresses only the corporate criminal liability of the former Massey, not potential criminal charges for any individual. The criminal investigation of individuals associated with Massey remains ongoing.

Since acquiring Massey, Alpha has cooperated fully with the authorities and has implemented extensive measures to improve health and safety at legacy Massey operations. “We believe the agreements we’ve reached represent the best path forward for everyone,” said Kevin Crutchfield, CEO, Alpha Natural Resources. “We’re particularly pleased that a substantial portion of the settlement is going toward furthering miner safety, which has always been Alpha’s guiding principle.”

The former Massey work force of more than 7,000 people has been trained in Running Right, Alpha’s behavior-based safety process, which builds on transparency and empowering employees to make safety and workplace improvements. Employees are encouraged to speak up by submitting suggestions and then participating in developing and implementing action plans. In the first four months after acquiring Massey, Alpha devoted more than 60,000 hours of training to this effort, and safety performance has improved as a result.

Alpha said it has begun a second phase of training specifically targeting those with supervisory responsibilities, focused on two fronts: Running Right leadership and safety compliance. Since June 1,450 supervisors have completed leadership training and more than 1,000 certified mine examiners have completed safety skills training and extensive safety compliance training. Alpha has also conducted emergency response training for mine foremen, superintendents, safety staff and management in all its business units.

Alpha has also devoted considerable resources to review mine plans at all of the former Massey operations. Those reviews have included ventilation surveys and modeling at underground mine sites, as well as analysis of geological, structural and roof support. To help expedite this work, the company has hired additional technical services professionals and additional safety specialists.