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Settlement Reached In Federal Lawsuit Against Mine In Kentucky

There's a settlement in the government's landmark lawsuit against coal mine giant Massey Energy -- a case involving the company's Freedom Number One Mine in Kentucky, which is considered so dangerous it was targeted for federal court supervision.

The settlement was announced just as a three-day hearing in the case began. Details were not immediately disclosed. The Labor Department sought an unprecedented federal court injunction and a judge's supervision of Massey Energy's Freedom mine in Kentucky.

As we've previously reported, the agency contends in court documents that Massey has repeatedly and persistently violated safety standards at the mine, putting miners at risk of injury or death. Massey says the mine is safe, but it has already shut down coal production and is in the process of closing the mine for good.

The settlement comes as the government was prepared to present testimony describing production pressure at the mine that allegedly trumped safety.

Massey also operates the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia where 29 mine workers died in a massive explosion last April.

Update at 11:35 a.m. ET. More details:

The agreement puts the mine under a federal judge's jurisdiction, and that judge could cite Massey Energy's mine managers for contempt of court if they fail to abide by a long list of safety conditions. The settlement seeks to protect about 60 mine workers during the several months it will take to dismantle and remove equipment. Massey does not admit to operating the mine unsafely, but agrees to the safety procedures and court supervision. The company also avoids a hearing that was expected to include testimony about production pressure while the mine amassed hundreds of safety violations.

(Click here to see more of the reporting that Howard Berkes and other NPR journalists have been doing aboutMine Safety In America. )

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Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.