The operator of the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, where 29 miners died earlier this month, is coming under increasing scrutiny from law enforcement officials. News broke today that the FBI is interviewing dozens of current and former employees of Massey Energy, the mine operator, as part of a criminal investigation into the deadliest American mining disaster in 40 years. Massey denied any wrongdoing, and offered full cooperation with federal law enforcement officials.
In the wake of the Upper Big Branch disaster, as well as two other deadly mining accidents this month, some legislators are seeking ways to strengthen mine safety. Despite the Mine Safety and Health Administration having notoriously weak enforcement tools, coal-state "lawmakers remain reluctant to enter the emerging debate over what's gone wrong, and whether Congress should step in with new laws to protect the nation's miners," reports Mike Lillis at The Washington Independent.
Though some families have already filed wrongful death suits against the mine operator, Massey is reportedly offering each family $3 million. In exchange, the families are being asked to dismiss pending suits or forgo their right to sue, one family said. According to Mark Moreland, an attorney involved in one of the suits, these settlement offers so soon after the deaths come at a tough time for families and help Massey "avoid answering hard questions raised publicly in litigation." Massey spokespeople refused to comment about the reported settlement offers.