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Massey CEO Set to Open More Coal Mines

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Credit: Joe Kekeris
Credit: Joe Kekeris

Don Blankenship was head of Massey Energy when 29 coal miners lost their lives in a massive explosionForced to resign, he has been largely invisible since.

Now he’s filed papers to start another coal mine venture. According to BusinessWeek:

Public records show that Blankenship has incorporated a new venture in Kentucky. Paperwork for McCoy Coal Group Inc. of Belfry, Ky., has been on file since January, though, and it has yet to seek a single mining permit, says Kentucky Energy and Environment spokesman Dick Brown.

Following the April 2010 the explosian at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch (W.Va.) mine, a Mine Workers (UMWA) report on the disaster summed up the tragedy in its title: Industrial Homicide. An independent report on the disaster commissioned by former Gov. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) concluded the responsibility for the explosion “lies with the management of Massey Energy…[B]y frequently and knowingly violating the law and blatantly disregarding known safety practices….Massey exhibited a corporate mentality that placed the drive to produce coal above worker safety.” And an investigation by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) found the company kept two sets of books to hide safety problems.

Prior to the disaster, MSHA had filed more than 450 safety citations at Upper Big Branch, which wasn’t the only Massey mine with safety problems. MSHA records show that in at least six of the 10 years prior to the explosion, Massey mine’s injury rate has been worse than the national average for similar operations. In 2009, Massey and subsidiary Aracoma Coal Co. agreed to pay $4.2 million in criminal fines and civil penalties related to a January 2006 fire that killed two miners at the Alma No. 1 mine.

But far from taking responsibility, Blankenship has implied the deadly blast was God’s fault and told the government to keep its hands off patriotic business like Massey. A business so patriotic that the Mine Workers’ report described it as:

A rogue corporation, acting without real regard for mine safety and health law and regulations, that established a physical working environment that can only be described as a bomb waiting to go off.

Blankenship has made a career of busting unionsviolating mine safety laws, attacking environmentalists and shilling for the far right and corporate America. The workers at Upper Big Branch were not in a union. A report following the tragedy found that unionized coal mines are far safer.

Alpha Natural Resources, which bought Massey Energy for $8.5 billion, last week reached an agreement with the federal government to pay $210 million, which does not bar any future criminal prosecutions of individuals connected to the deadly explosion.

Let’s hope not. Because as UMWA spokesman Phil Smith puts it, at least 18 Massey managers should be prosecuted, including its former CEO.

Don Blankenship belongs in jail, not in a position to put yet more miners’ lives at risk.

(Blankenship is among 30 of the worst 1 percent—bankers, politicians and corporate big wigs—highlighted by Brave New Films. You can vote for the worst of the worst here.)

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now Blog on December 12, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee (represented by a hotel and restaurant local union—the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism—covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia—she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.


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