Coal Tattoo

Kevin Crutchfield, the president and CEO of Alpha Natural Resources, was on statewide radio here in West Virginia this morning, being interviewed by Talkline host Hoppy Kercheval.

Hoppy asked Crutchfield what he thought happened back on April 5, 2010, when Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine blew up. Crutchfield said:

That’s a great question. Our goal is to have access to all of the information, which we did not have until the transaction closed, and try to make our own assessment, conduct our own review of what we think transpired at that coal mine, because job number 1 is to ensure that nothing like that ever happens again, so that we can put mechanisms or mitigants in place to ensure that nothing like that ever happens again at an Alpha coal mine or any coal mine in the nation, for that matter, so that’s our goal and we’re still in the midst of looking through the information, hiring some of our own experts, and I would hold back on any opinions until we have a more informed view.

My buddy Hoppy pushed Crutchfield a little bit, and the CEO added:

At the end of the day, our underlying belief is that all accidents are preventable. I think you have to believe that in order to continue to improve over time and achieve better and better safety results. I think with respect to this mine, we don’t honestly know yet. And until we do it probably wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment. But our underlying belief is that all accidents were preventable, because I think you have to have that believe to be able to make the kind of progress we expect to make with respect to our safety performance and taking care of our fellow employees.

Hoppy kept pushing, and Crutchfield said:

I think there are instances probably that are out of our control sometimes, but again, we’re going to stick with the underlying belief that all accidents are preventable, until we learn otherwise. But I think there clearly are some instances that, you know there are exogenous events that fell out of our control. But our philosophy is to stick with the belief that all accidents are preventable, and let’s put plans in place to be sure we send everybody home safely after every shift.

Hoppy asked Crutchfield how the transition was going in training former Massey workers in Alpha’s “Running Right” program:

So far, so good. All of the folks that I’ve met with, I’ve spent a fair amount of time on this personally over the last couple of weeks since we closed the transaction, there’s been a high degree of receptivity. At the end of the day, it’s beyond reproach, when you talk about caring for your coworker and admittedly running right has its roots in safety, it’s a behavior-based program where everybody has a voice, everybody has a seat at the table, but we also think it goes across all aspects of our business, the environmental stewardship, and just the way we run our company, frankly, the way we live our lives. That will be the way we’ll operate the combined company. We have almost 600 training sessions scheduled between now and over the course of the next few months.

Hoppy also asked him about the two incidents in recent months where Alpha workers pleaded guilty to federal charges related to faking a mine foreman’s license and lying to investigators:

I don’t by any means try to hold us out as being perfect. We make mistakes like everybody else, but you know, the goal through the Running Right program is to punish the sin, not so much the sinner, but also we want to let our folks know that Running Right is not a suggestion. It is going to be the way we run the company. When we make mistakes, and then look to us to correct them. It’s the responsible thing to do.

In response to a question about Chris Adkins, a former top Massey official who had been named to a spot at Alpha, but it now not joining the company, Crutchfield said:

I’d just as soon not get into having discussion about individuals over the airwaves. It was a mutual decision, and let’s just leave it at that.

Regarding any comparisons between himself and former Massey CEO Don Blankenship, Crutchfield said:

I can tell you what my style is and everybody can do their own comparison. Look, everybody is different, and I think at the end of the day, Don always believed what he was doing was the right thing, but our goal is to run the combined company the way we’ve been running Alpha since its inception, and that is under the banner of Running Right. But we have an extraordinarily talented workforce of 14,000 people. We’ve set the organization up in a way that will provide a lot of autonomy in the field, which is the way we think it ought to be. And our goal is to get the company operating as advertised, and think about the business in the long term. My style personally is, look, I have disagreements with regulators from time to time, policymakers from time to time, but I think it’s the manner in which you disagree with them, and how you conduct those debates is what matters, and our goal is to be respectful, but also stand up for what we believe is right. But again, our goal is to run the combined company in the same manner in wich we’ve run alpha since its inception.

Finally, asked about whether mountaintop removal is a good long-term business plan for a coal company, Crutchfield said:

It is a challenging environment. We’ve seen a plethora of regulations come out of the EPA both as regards the burning of coal, as well as the producing of coal and the environment from a permitting and regulatory standpoint is very, very challenging. As things stand today, it’s a completely legal practice. We do a fair amount of mountaintop removal mining ourselves, and have every intention of planning to continue that. But we also believe that there are ways potentially where we can improve our practices, and we are certainly open to improving those practices, because we’re stewards over these resources, not only the coal resources, but our people and our communities, and we have to be sensitive to all of those stakeholders, because I do believe at the end of the day, you can conduct mining operations in concert with the communities in which you operate. But I think you have to be sensitive to their needs as well, and we’re open to how we can improve going forward.