Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship will retire at the end of the year.

From the West Virginia Gazette:

The move comes amid persistent rumors that Richmond, Va.-based Massey will be sold to another mining firm, and as the company struggles to recover from the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster in April, which killed 29 workers and was the worst U.S. mining disaster in more than 40 years.

In a prepared statement issued at about 6 p.m., Massey’s board of directors gave no clear reason for the move, but said that Baxter Phillips, Massey’s president, would take over as chairman and CEO.

Here is the full statement from Massey.

The announcement came after a judge ruled that Blankenship must face two lawsuits that hold him personally responsible for the Upper Big Branch explosion.

The widows of William Griffith and Ronald Maynor, who were killed in the April 5 blast at Massey’s Performance Coal unit, claim the Richmond, Virginia-based company and Blankenship were responsible for violations of federal and state safety regulations that led to the explosion. The CEO was “willfully negligent” in his direction of the company subsidiaries operating the mine, they said in separate complaints.

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Blankenship, 60, was too far removed from supervision of the mine to be held liable and claims against him should be dismissed, [Blankenship's attorney Thomas] Flaherty told Thompson at the hearing.

“Blankenship is running the great-grandparent” of the Upper Big Branch mine, Flaherty said. “He has control of UBB from the 60,000-foot level.”

“Don Blankenship ran these companies negligently,” Mark Moreland, the widows’ attorney, said during the October hearing. “The cause of action is negligence.”

While it isn’t online yet, Rolling Stone recently published a scathing profile of Blankenship.

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