In an agreement that brings an end to a four-year investigation related to the August 2007 incident at the mine, Genwal will plead guilty to two misdemeanor violations of the Mine Act. The first concerns a failure to report within 15 minutes to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) a bounce that disrupted regular mining activity for more than one hour. The second misdemeanor involves a violation of the roof control plan by mining a barrier pillar.
Under the agreement, Genwal Resources will plead guilty to both charges and pay the maximum fine allowed under the law of $250,000 per count. The company admitted it had a duty to report the March 10, 2007, accident to MSHA within 15 minutes and willfully did not report the accident once it had occurred. The company also admitted it was aware of the approved roof control plan amendment that prohibited mining the barrier pillar between crosscuts 142-139 in the No. 1 entry. The company admitted it willfully mined the barrier pillar in the prohibited area. The U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed it will not bring other charges against Genwal or any of its related companies, individuals, officers or directors in connection with Crandall Canyon. The plea agreement is now subject to a judicial review.
Six miners were trapped inside the Crandall Canyon mine following a catastrophic mine collapse on August 6, 2007. Over the next several days, rescuers worked to reach the trapped miners. Another massive coal outburst took the lives of three rescuers and injured six others 10 days after the rescue operations commenced. Rescue efforts at the mine were called off.
Referrals for criminal investigations of the accidents were made to the Department of Justice by the U.S. Senate and Rep. George Miller, then Chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor in the U.S. House of Representatives. MSHA also made a formal referral to the Justice Department asking for a criminal investigation.
“We were asked to review these referrals to determine whether any criminal violations occurred during the mine accidents,” U.S. Attorney David B. Barlow said. “In gathering and evaluating the evidence, our office not only considered all of the potential charges that Congress and MSHA referred, but we also considered many more theories of prosecution beyond those in the referrals.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI began an extensive investigation involving the review of more than 84,000 documents containing hundreds of thousands of pages from MSHA and Congress. Although MSHA and congressional referrals provided needed information, they were not prepared to specifically determine whether there was sufficient evidence of a criminal act to convince a jury to convict beyond a reasonable doubt. Prosecutors and agents conducted interviews, consulted with mining experts, and used other investigative tools to gather significant additional evidence in the case. The U.S. Attorney’s Office also conducted its own interviews, consulted with mining experts, and used other investigative tools to seek additional material.
“Criminal laws require a very high standard. We must prove that a person knew what the law required and knowingly and willfully violated it. We also must prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. After considering the evidence, the law, and the heavy burden of proof we must carry in court, the charges we filed meet this high standard,” Barlow said.
“We recognize that nothing we can do will ever bring back the miners and rescuers who perished, restore the health of those who were injured during the rescue, or erase the nightmares that still haunt those who were first-hand witnesses to these tragedies. However, it is our hope that these charges, and the maximum penalties that come with them, will remind mining companies everywhere of the importance of obeying safety laws,” Barlow said.
In a prepared statement, Genwal said it has always maintained that its plan for mining at Crandall Canyon was safe—a belief that was shared by MSHA (which approved the plan) and the mine engineering firm on which Genwal relied.