RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The most infamous company name in the American coal industry is now officially retired. Massey Energy owned the West Virginia mine that experienced the most deadly explosion in decades. Yesterday, Massey Energy was absorbed by Alpha Natural Resources in a friendly takeover. NPR's Howard Berkes reports that the company's new owner is trying to retire, not just the Massey name, but also its legacy.
HOWARD BERKES: Two coal miners with reflective stripes on their clothes pulled down a dark sheet, yesterday, at what had been Massey Energy's West Virginia headquarters.
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It was a new sign, a big green A and the words Alpha Natural Resources. And it was a new day for the people who'd worked for Massey. At least that's what Alpha CEO Kevin Crutchfield told the crowd.
Mr. KEVIN CRUTCHFIELD (CEO, Alpha Natural Resources): We're going to run right and we're going to lead by example. We'll let our performance be our public relations effort. We're willing to be judged by what happens from this day forward.
BERKES: When Alpha's approach to safety, a program called Running Right, is infused into Massey's mines. Leave behind Massey's litany of safety violations, its two deadly mine disasters and its anti-regulation fervor.
Sitting at home near the Upper Big Branch coal mine, Gary Quarles was skeptical. A Massey miner himself, Quarles lost his son, Gary Wayne, in the explosion last year that took 29 lives.
Mr. GARY QUARLES (Coal miner): Nothing's going to change. The name will change and that's all. These men here do not know how to go about doing stuff right.
BERKES: That's a reference to the coal miners, executives and managers used to doing it the Massey way. Alpha had announced it was moving about a dozen Massey officials into its own management ranks. CEO Crutchfield defended that lingering hold on the Massey legacy in an interview later in the day.
Mr. CRUTCHFIELD: Those are the decisions that have been made to date. We stand by them, but if there's a need to create a course correction in the future, then that's exactly what we'll do.
BERKES: And then Crutchfield suddenly disclosed a course correction, involving Massey chief operating officer Chris Adkins. He'd been tapped to help integrate the Running Right safety program in the newly-merged company. That decision triggered fierce criticism, because Adkins presided over Massey while it compiled one of the worst safety records in the industry.
Mr. CRUTCHFIELD: Chris - it's fairly, fairly new news. I haven't shared it with anybody, but Chris will not be joining Alpha. I'm not going to say any more about it than just that.
BERKES: Crutchfield also wouldn't confirm whether he'd hired Chris Blanchard and Jason Whitehead. They were responsible for the Upper Big Branch mine and they spent four hours underground and unsupervised, immediately following the deadly explosion. Federal mine safety officials and investigators were concerned they may have tampered with evidence.
Crutchfield said last fall, that he'd likely hire Blanchard and Whitehead and others as part of a merger deal. That was revealed in court documents unsealed yesterday.
Mr. CRUTCHFIELD: We made our selections based on who we thought would be appropriate and fit within the Alpha culture and being able to take Alpha to a new level, so I dont give the conspiracy theory much thought.
BERKES: That's a reference to claims by some Massey shareholders that the merger was rigged to give executives jobs and shield them from liability.
Crutchfield said Alpha would launch a massive training effort to change the safety practices at the former Massey mines. Alpha itself has criticized Massey's culture, so including in Alpha's management, people responsible for that culture, feeds skepticism about running Alpha right.
Howard Berkes, NPR News.
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