[imgcontainer left] [img:1271102979570.jpeg] A make-shift memorial erected after a blast at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia killed 29 miners in April 2010. [/imgcontainer]

The deaths of 29 miners at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine in April 2010 were “entirely preventable,” according to a report from the federal Mine Health and Safety Administration.

The explosion that killed the 29 workers was caused by several violations of safety law, Massey’s efforts to hide hazards from inspectors and “reflected a pervasive culture that valued production over safety.” Ken Ward Jr. has the full report here.

The report was released today. MSHA found that Massey operated with “reckless disregard” for the law. “Massey routinely ignored obvious safety hazards and let conditions develop that allowed a small methane ignition to propagate into a massive coal dust explosion,” the MSHA report said. “The tragic deaths of 29 miners and serious injuries to two others at Upper Big Branch were entirely preventable.”

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors announced a $200 million deal with Alpha Natural Resources, the company that bought Massey six months ago. Alpha will spend $80 million on new equipment and safety training. The company will also pay $35 million to resolve all pending civil penalties accrued by Massey, including nearly $11 million in fines just connected to the disaster.

The company will create a $48 million trust to fund mine safety research and will pay $46.5 million in restitution to the families of the miners who died in the blast. For more details, go here.

Attorney General Eric Holder said that the agreement was the “largest ever resolution in a criminal investigation of a mine disaster and will ensure appropriate steps are taken to improve mine safety now and will fund research to enhance mine safety in the future. While we continue to investigate individuals associated with this tragedy, this historic agreement — one of the largest payments ever for workplace safety crimes of any type — will help to create safer work environments for miners in West Virginia and across the country.”

• The Commodity Futures Trading Commission voted unanimously yesterday to limit how brokers can invest their clients’ funds. The vote comes after $1.2 billion in customer funds at MF Global Holdings went missing before the company entered bankruptcy.

Ag interests (including many farmers) had funds with MF Global, which has led the House Agriculture Committee to subpoena company officials. “The events that have unfolded since Oct. 31 are unprecedented and have resulted in the loss of property of many of our constituents and a loss of confidence in the futures markets,” Representative Frank D. Lucas, the Oklahoma Republican who leads the Agriculture Committee.

Reuters reports that farmers who have lost money in the maze of MFGlobal’s transactions are having trouble buying seed and supplies for next year’s crop.

• Britain is enacting spending cuts, the harshest in at least a generation, and they are “beginning to take their toll out in its picture-book countryside,” according to a L. A. Times reports.

The most important cuts to rural England may be to the bush service. You can catch a train from big place to big place, but rural communities use buses. England has cut back on 1,000 bus routes and more are on the block.

• “Never before has there been so much money in agriculture — you just don’t get it,” Mike Callicrate, a Kansas cattle raiser, told the Kansas Rural Center’s Sustainable Agriculture Conference.

• The Washington Post editorial page says the biggest environmental challenge isn’t global warming. It’s feeding people.

Well, actually, that was what World Wildlife Fund’s chief Carter Roberts said, but the Post agrees. The Post is also in favor of genetically modified crops and an end for subsidies for biofuels.

• GE corn from Monsanto appears to be losing its effectiveness against rootworms, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Bloomberg reports that rootworms in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska are thought to be developing tolerance to the seed’s insecticide. The EPA posted this notice in late November.

• The State Department hasn’t granted permission to TransCanada to build the entire Keystone XL pipeline, which would pipe oil sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. But the company says it could start building the southern end of the pipeline without any further permits, InsideClimate News reports.

Environmentalists disagree, of course. The southern end of the pipeline would go from Cushing, Oklahoma, to Houston and Port Arthur.

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