CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The nation's worst mining disaster in 40 years was an act of "industrial homicide," the United Mine Workers of America said Tuesday.
In a sternly worded report on the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, the union said mine owner Massey Energy was "solely responsible" for allowing dangerous conditions that contributed to a "massive slaughter" at the Raleigh County mine in April 2010.
The report was the third report this year to paint a damning picture of conditions at the mine before a spark there set off a cascading series of explosions that killed 29 men.
The UMW's report revealed little new information, in part because it agreed with the major findings and technical analysis of two previous reports.
Upper Big Branch asked the union to represent them in an investigation of the explosion. Upper Big Branch - like the vast majority of Massey mines - was non-union. Massey no longer exists as a stand-alone company. Alpha Natural Resources bought Massey earlier this year.
The UMW said Massey employees - some of whom now work for Alpha - need to be prosecuted for "permitting dangerous conditions at the mine."
"Theirs is not a guilt of omission but rather, based on the facts publicly available, the Union believes that Massey Energy and its management were on notice of and recklessly tolerated mining conditions that were so egregious that the resulting disaster constituted a massive slaughter in the nature of an industrial homicide," the 92-page report said.
Union President Cecil Roberts specifically wants to see charges brought against former Massey CEO Don Blankenship.
Roberts dismissed arguments that responsibility shouldn't reach into the boardrooms, noting that Blankenship was known for micromanaging his mines.
While there is no legal definition of "industrial homicide," Roberts suggested Massey employees could be charged with negligent manslaughter or some other offense.
"You realize if this had happened outside the coal industry, out on the street somewhere - that people had been negligent to this degree and someone had been killed - they would have went to jail," Roberts said during a press conference at Embassy Suites in Charleston.
Federal prosecutors are said to be looking into criminal wrongdoing related to the explosion. But so far charges have been filed only against a security guard, and the charges aren't directly related to the explosion. That trial began this week.
"I think we've got a second tragedy," Roberts said, "that we've got a security guard that's been indicted and Don Blankenship can't figure out where to spend all his money."
Roberts suggested if federal prosecutors aren't going to press charges, local prosecutors should consider handing out indictments.
The UMW report lists 18 Massey employees who "played an integral role in the events leading up to and resulting in the explosion."
At least two, Blankenship and Massey Chief Operating Office Chris Adkins, did not join Alpha after the sale.
As for the rest, an Alpha spokesman said, "Some individuals transferred to the Alpha field organization and some did not.
"We hold ourselves and our people to a high standard. If there are issues to address when all the final reports are in, and all the investigations are completed, based on the conclusiveness of what we've learned, we'll take appropriate action," Alpha spokesman Ted Pile said in an email.
He said the company would examine all allegations made.
Pile also said Alpha had yet to reach its own conclusion about what caused the explosion.