CHARLESTON, W.Va. – U.S. Attorney R. Booth Goodwin II today announced that he has approved the selection of three leading experts in mine safety and health and workplace safety and health to serve as members of the board of directors of the $48 million Alpha Foundation for the Improvement of Mine Safety and Health. The Foundation was created as part of a December 2011 agreement between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia (USAO) and Alpha Natural Resources (Alpha) arising from the Upper Big Branch mine explosion. Selected to lead the research foundation board are 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 Lowell; and Dr. Michael E. Karmis, professor and director of the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech.
“Drs. Heasley, Wegman, and Karmis are leaders in mine safety and workplace safety, and I am pleased they have agreed to serve on the Foundation’s board,” U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said. “Each board member brings many years of research experience and world-class expertise that will help the Foundation foster life-saving advances in mine safety and health.”
The Foundation is an independent entity that will fund mine safety and health research and development without involvement from Alpha or the United States Attorney’s Office. It will operate under the supervision of the directors announced today. The Foundation plans to hold a kick-off meeting this summer where the directors will begin setting priorities for funding.
“The research and development component of our agreement with Alpha holds the promise of breakthroughs that will transform mine safety in the coming decades,” Goodwin continued. “The Foundation will jump-start innovation and put brilliant minds to work on the risks that coal miners face. We look forward to a future in which coal mining is as safe as any other occupation.”
Under the December non-prosecution agreement, Alpha agreed to make payments and safety investments totaling $209 million in connection with the criminal investigation of events surrounding the April 5, 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine. Those payments include the investment of $48 million in the Foundation, which will fund academic and non-profit research.
Dr. Heasley is a Professor of Mining Engineering at the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at West Virginia University and a registered professional engineer in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. His primary research interests are numerical modeling in rock mechanics, computer applications in mining, and multiple-seam mine design and ground control. He is currently developing a portable seismic system for locating trapped miners that can be set up within minutes of arriving at an accident site.
Dr. Wegman was named Emeritus Professor of Work Environment at UMass Lowell in 2009 after serving a five-year term as Dean of the university’s School of Health and Environment. Prior to serving as dean, Dr. Wegman was the founding Chair of the Department of Work Environment. Dr. Wegman also serves as Adjunct Professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. Wegman's service in government has included work as the chairman of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration's Advisory Committee on the elimination of pneumoconiosis among coal mine workers. He is a former member of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Standards Advisory Committee on metal working fluids, and served as a consultant to the Director of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) on the agency extramural research program and on research concerning aging and work.
Dr. Michael E. Karmis is the Stonie Barker Professor of Virginia Tech’s Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering and director of the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech. Dr. Karmis’ expertise includes work associated with the sustainable development of mineral and energy resources, rock mechanics, mining systems and energy systems. Dr. Karmis has conducted current and past research on various topics including the environmental impacts of mining, mine systems design, and mine health and safety.
The non-prosecution agreement announced in December also requires Alpha to invest at least $80 million in innovative mine safety enhancements at all its underground mines, including those formerly owned by Massey.
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