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In this May 20, 2010 photo, Massey Energy Company Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. The former CEO who oversaw the West Virginia mine that exploded in 2010, killing 29 people, has been indicted on federal charges related to a mine safety investigation. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said a federal grand jury indicted Blankenship on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Ex-coal exec pleads not guilty in W.Va. mine blast

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Former coal company chief executive Don Blankenship has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy charges in the deadliest U.S. coal mine accident in four decades.

Blankenship entered the plea Thursday at his first court appearance since he was indicted last week. He is accused of conspiring to violate safety and health standards at the Upper Big Branch mine. In April 2010, an explosion at the mine killed 29 men.

The 64-year-old Blankenship faces up to 31 years in prison if convicted.

His bond was not immediately set. The hearing was in a recess and bond was expected to be set later Thursday.