You are hereFootnoted: Blaming the regulators at Massey Energy…

Footnoted: Blaming the regulators at Massey Energy…

April 20, 2011- It’s the one-year anniversary of the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill. But if you think back to April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon crisis came on the heels of another unnatural disaster: The death underground of 29 coal miners in Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.

Well, yesterday Massey (MEE) amended its 10-K to disclose pay and governance information. The filing is illuminating, not least because what horrified the nation about the mine explosion was not just the human tragedy, but also the ugly details came out about Massey’s approach to mine safety and safety regulation.

Sadly, the filing isn’t likely to do much to improve things. It may not matter much to shareholders, or to Massey’s board or executives — the company plans to merge into Alpha Natural Resources (ANR) in a deal expected to close mid-year. But we’ve written about Massey several times since the tragedy, and it seems fitting to take what may prove to be a final look.

First, Massey makes a point of the fact that its board created a new Safety and Environmental Committee last year — better late than never, we suppose. But the company previously had a “Safety, Environmental and Public Policy Committee,” and four of the new panel’s five members, including ex-offiicio member and board Chairman Bobby Inman, were on the old committee as well; the fifth is new to the board altogether. In other words, it’s pretty much the same folks minding the safety record — it’s just that some of them no longer have to oversee the lobbying as well.

Massey also says the “new” committee is made up entirely of independent members — which is presumably technically true under the New York Stock Exchange’s rules. Yet one of the committee’s members, Stanley C. Suboleski, is a former interim COO of the company and at various times helped run two of its subsidiaries; the company also paid him $47,300 in consulting fees last year, apparently above and beyond his director compensation, including for “tremendous support … as we investigate the UBB mine tragedy…” Meantime, Massey gives us no sense of how active safety committee has been: Although last year’s proxy told us that the old committee met just four times during the year before the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion, this year’s proxy is mum on the subject.

We were also struck by how the filing deals with the tragedy, or perhaps tries to avoid doing so. The document mentions the incident a handful of times, depending how you count, but mostly obliquely: Once, it’s to explain why the board met more frequently in 2010 than in 2009 (in part to deal with “the investigation into the causes” and “the multiple litigation matters” stemming from the tragedy); another time it’s to help explain why Suboleski was paid consulting fees in addition to his director’s compensation (in part, because his “substantial knowledge of mining regulations and their application is essential to assist us with our operations.”).



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