The U.S. Attorney for Kentucky’s Western District announced eight conspiracy indictments on Wednesday against employees of the bankrupt Armstrong Energy coal company for falsifying dust monitoring samples in two of its Kentucky mines.
The indictments against a supervisor, safety directors, and section foremen at the mines come as black lung cases are surging in the region.
U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman says officials rely on the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration to ensure companies comply with dust controls. But he says it’s important that the people working in the mines report on violations.
“At the end of the day, those that want to cheat in a complex industry like that will always attempt to cheat," Coleman stated at a news conference in Owensboro. "So the best witnesses, the best sources of information, are the miners themselves.”
Acting on a tip from whistle blowers, federal inspectors found violations at Armstrong Energy’s Parkway and Kronos mines.
Mike Wilson, a former miner at Armstrong mines, was among those who alerted inspectors. Wilson says cheating on dust samples was common at many mines and that miners had little choice in the matter.
“I done it at all of them, tampered with the dust pump at all of them," Wilson commented. "You had to do it their way or you didn’t stay.”
The indictment lists the Armstrong company as an “unindicted co-conspirator,” and Coleman did not rule out further indictments.
The indictment says the Armstrong Coal company avoided implementing ventilation and production controls to save money. That came at the expense of exposing the miners, increasing their risks of contracting black lung.
Armstrong Energy owned the mines in Kentucky’s Ohio and Muhlenberg Counties, which supplied coal to power plants including the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Paradise station.
Armstrong Energy declared bankruptcy last year.