CHARLESTON – U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin last week joined leading researchers and officials from the mining community at the initial meeting of a new $48 million mine safety and health research foundation.
The funding for the research foundation is part of $209 million Alpha Natural Resources (“Alpha”) will pay as a result of Goodwin’s investigation of the April 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster.
The Alpha payment is the largest ever in a criminal investigation of workplace safety. The foundation is believed to be the largest fund for mine safety and health research in history.
The kickoff meeting drew leaders from across the mining community to Charleston. Participants included Joe Main, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health; Dr. Jeffrey Kohler, the director of the Office of Mine Safety and Health Research at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; Dennis O’Dell, Safety and Health Director for the United Mine Workers of America; and Bruce Watzman of the National Mining Association.
“Together with many of the preeminent academic researchers in the field of mine safety and health, those officials discussed how the $48 million in foundation funds can be used to protect America’s miners,” said U.S. Attorney Goodwin.
“The tragedy at UBB was a bitter reminder that we have much more work to do in mine safety and health,” Goodwin said. “This foundation honors the memory of those lost at UBB with an unprecedented effort to make mines safer.”
“The goal of the foundation is to make sure our best and brightest minds are working on mine safety and have the resources they need,” Goodwin continued. “If we can accomplish that, we’ll see breakthroughs that will transform mining in the years ahead. We want a future where mining is as safe as any other job.”
Potential areas for research include black lung disease, technology to prevent explosive buildups of gas and dust in mines, better mine communication systems, and improved mine rescue capabilities. The meeting attracted professors from universities around the United States, including West Virginia University, Virginia Tech University, Penn State University, the University of Arizona, the University of Connecticut, and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.
Earlier this year, U.S. Attorney Goodwin approved the selection of three distinguished researchers as officers of the foundation: Dr. Keith A. Heasley of West Virginia University’s College of Engineering and Mineral Resources; Dr. David H. Wegman, Emeritus Professor of Work Environment at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Lowell; and Dr. Michael E. Karmis, professor and director of the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech. Last week’s meeting drew researchers and professors from Utah, South Dakota and Canada. Mining industry leaders were also on hand.
Goodwin added that the meeting aims to gather information from top researchers and mining leaders as foundation officers choose funding priorities and set up a process for seeking grant awards.
“This is a great opportunity for people in the mine safety and health research field,” he said.
Alpha acquired Massey Energy Company, which owned and operated the Upper Big Branch mine, in June 2011. As part of the same resolution that established the foundation, Alpha will spend at least $80 million on innovative mine safety enhancements, including a new $18 million miner training facility in Julian.