CHRIS TILLEY / Reuters
Blankenship’s lawyers have vowed to appeal his conviction. Blankenship has claimed that the explosion was caused by a buildup of natural gas in the mine. But federal investigators found that faulty equipment created a spark that ignited a mixture of coal dust and methane gas in the poorly ventilated mine.
The investigators found that broken and clogged water sprinklers failed to put out the resulting fire.
His lawyers had asked the judge to be lenient.
“The defense never contested that Don Blankenship could be blunt and a hard taskmaster, but the truth is that he cares deeply about his family, his community, and the people who worked for him,” they said in court filings before the sentencing.
“Not one witness testified that Mr. Blankenship instructed him to violate safety regulations or otherwise suggested or insinuated that he should violate any of the regulations.”
But prosecutors said he was well aware of the risks he was taking by ignoring mine safety laws, especially those requiring adequate ventilation.
“He made a conscious, cold-blooded decision to gamble with the lives of the men and women who worked for him,” prosecutors said in their pre-sentence filings.