Former Massey Energy chief Donald Blankenship pleaded not guilty to charges linked to the West Virginia mine explosion that killed 29 workers in the worst U.S. coal industry disaster in almost 40 years. Blankenship is accused of hampering regulators’ safety inspections of the Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County where the explosion occurred in April 2010. The judge set a trial for Jan. 26. About 50 spectators were in the courtroom. If the former chief executive officer is convicted of the four charges, he faces a maximum penalty of 31 years in prison, according to prosecutors. Blankenship is accused of setting hyper-aggressive coal- production quotas and instructing subordinates to ignore basic safety measures, such as controlling explosive coal dust and providing proper ventilation in the mines.
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