upper big branch
The infamous Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy Company, has announced he will retire at the end of December. Given the storms Blankenship had weathered in the past, it came as somewhat of a surprise that the climate change denying, union busting, federal judge bribing, safety law violating, mountain top destroyer is finally calling it quits.
His decision to leave was likely at the behest of the Massey board, which has announced its intention to sell the company. Blankenship had always been an obstacle to the sale, publicly decrying the idea by comparing Massey to a “broken down truck” in need of fixing before being put on the market.
As the face of Massey Energy, Blankenship also posed a serious public relations obstacle to any potential sale. Recently called the “Dark Lord of Coal Country” by the Rolling Stone Magazine, he was a ripe target for those wishing to draw attention to the death and destruction caused by an unapologetic coal industry.
The embattled CEO is also facing growing legal trouble of his own due to the Upper Big Branch mine explosion. A judge in West Virginia declined to throw out two separate lawsuits that hold Blankenship personally responsible for the disaster. Two women widowed by the UBB explosion filed the lawsuits, which Blankenship hoped would be dismissed. The judge’s decision was announced shortly before Blankenship made public his departure, adding to speculation that he had become a public relations hindrance to Massey’s sale.
Investors have agreed wholeheartedly with the change in leadership, sending Massey’s stock soaring after news of Blankenship’s retirement.
It is important to remember that as influential as Blankenship was, it is the Massey Energy Company that is ultimately responsible for it’s multiple mining disasters. Blankenship has been an obvious figurehead for what is wrong with Massey and the coal industry culture at large, but his departure should not distract attention from the fact that coal companies want coal, and they do not care about the environmental and human costs endemic to its extraction.
Massey CEO Don Blankenship, West Virginia's strip mining overlord, faces two lawsuits that hold him personally responsible for the Upper Big Branch coal mining disaster which killed 29 men. A Judge in west Virginia ruled that two separate lawsuits, brought by two women widowed by Massey's UBB mine, will not be dismissed as Blankenship had hoped.
Blankenship is accused of being “willfully negligent” in his direction of the company subsidiaries operating the mine, which violated a host of federal and state safety regulations prior to the explosion.
For more see the Bloomberg News article by Chris Stratton and Margaret Cronin Fisk.
Massey Energy recently released a new report claiming the company’s safety practices were not to blame for the Upper Big Branch mining disaster that killed 29 people. Massey Energy’s chief executive Don Blankenship maintains the explosion was caused by natural occurrences and not from unsafe coal mining and ventilation procedures. He says the report "illustrates that it's something unusual, that it's more likely than not that it came out of the floor… and not out of the natural mining process,” refuting the widely held theory that the deadly explosion was due to the willful disabling of methane detectors.
The report, authored by Massey “experts,” is the company’s latest contrivance in their campaign to discredit and obstruct government investigations into the disaster. Other elements of their strategy have included physically keeping investigators from inspecting machinery at the mine, preventing top safety officials from testifying, and publicly accusing the state and federal governments of lying. Because of Massey’s repeated attempts to sabotage the investigation, MSHA officials have threatened to seize the mine, an extreme action that illustrates the level of hostility felt by investigators.
Avoiding or reducing their liability is of utmost importance to Massey Energy executives, who have announced they were considering all offers for a buy out. The company has not hit its production targets since 2004, has suffered multiple deadly disasters related to poor safety practices, and posted a net loss of $41.4 million last quarter. Given the fact that any company that buys Massey would be liable for the damages wrought at UBB, company executives have little chance of pawning their problems off on a buyer if the MSHA finds Massey at fault for the UBB explosion. This means that Massey execs are frantically trying to limit their responsibility for UBB, or at least prolong the investigation long enough to sell the company before the roof falls in on their heads.
Officials responsible for safety at the Upper Big Branch coal mine during the April 3rd, 2010 disaster have decided to live by the old maxim “better to keep your mouth shut and appear guilty than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
“Approximately 15 Massey upper-management employees have pled their Fifth Amendment right not to provide potentially self-incriminating evidence during the interview process,” according to the US Mine Safety and Health Administration, the government agency responsible for investigating the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 miners.
At least six of those who have refused to cooperate with MHSA were high-level safety personnel at Upper Big Branch during the explosion. Lawyers for the Massey officials issued letters to the state announcing their clients’ refusal to testify in the investigation for fear of incriminating themselves, while maintaining that they “did nothing wrong.” The refusal of those responsible for safety at UBB to testify is not a surprise, given the numerous allegations that Massey management took major risks with human life rather than threaten profits.
The refusal of top Massey safety officials to cooperate in the investigation is part of a wider campaign orchestrated by the coal company to discredit the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration in hopes of influencing public opinion. Though nominally independent, the Massey officials’ lawyers are paid by Massey, and have parroted Massey’s corporate lawyers’ accusations of wrongdoing by government agencies. Massey Energy’s legal team claims that the investigations were being used more as a means of “generating public bias against Massey Energy and its personnel than they are in respecting the rule of law and fair process.” Following in lockstep, “independent” lawyers representing the Massey officials claim the investigations are “not being conducted properly” by MSHA, who is using its investigation to "divert attention and blame from itself and onto others."
Massey’s strategy has also included an attack on the independent investigation team appointed by Gov. Joe Manchin, which Massey-affiliated lawyers allege have "bullied and abused" some witnesses.
For the record, these are the names and positions of Massey officials refusing to work with the MSHA investigation that have been released:
* Jamie Ferguson, vice president of Massey subsidiary Performance Coal;
* Wayne Persinger, a general manager at Upper Big Branch;
* Rick Nicolau, a maintenance chief at the mine;
* Mine foremen Rick Foster and Gary May.
From the West Virginia Gazette
As Don Blankenship makes a fuss over federal investigation of an April mine explosion that killed 29 of his employees, six other Massey managers are now filing a lawsuit against the West Virginia Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training (OMHST) after being subpoenaed.
The Massey managers, including vice president of safety Elizabeth Chamberlin, claim the subpoena is an abusive response to their lack of cooperation with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), which is still investigating the disaster. Massey is accusing MSHA of trying to pin blame on the company while avoiding their own responsibilities.
Blankenship continues to assert that some of the miners who died ignored signs of danger at their own peril. Perhaps Blankenship's orders to employees to prioritize productivity above certain safety measures was taken too far?
Check out the Charleston Gazette for more.
The Associated Press reports that Don Blankenship, the antagonistic CEO of the coal-mining and mountain-leveling company Massey Energy, is accusing the Mine Safety and Health Administration of leading a disingenuous investigation following the deadly explosion in Massey's Upper Big Branch mine in April.
Blankenship's denies that methane monitors in the mine were tampered with, despsite Congressional testimony from employees stating otherwise. The coal baron also asserts that combustible coal dust, which evidence shows was present in unsafe amounts before the explosion, was not the cause of the disaster. Instead, Blankenship insists that safety precautions were overwhelmed when methane leaked into the mine from a floor crack, which MSHA is not buying.
On safety regulation,
"[Blankenship] said more must be done to prevent explosions, but with the realization that not every blast is avoidable."
This is typical souless Blankenship talk--claiming more should be done while fighting tooth and nail to avoid just that, with a dash of shocking honesty that he fully expects to oversee deadly accidents in the future. After he himself has told employees to forgo certain safety precautions in order to maximize coal production, more deaths certainly seem inevitable.
The Upper Big Branch mine explosion, the Deepwater Horizon blowout, the Texas City Refinery explosion, and other similar disasters of varying scale are normal business for the fossil fuel industry. Working with heavy machinery always has a danger component, and adding combustable material to the mix amplifies the likelihood and intensity of disasters.
Fossil fuel use is not an inevitable, indefinite future pathway. We know an Energy [R]evolution is possible, and we can't expect any fossil fool CEO to ever act on it, even if they admit it in the first place. From the Proposition 23 battle, the grief over EPA's ability to regulate coal ash and greenhouse gases, and Blankenship's continued heartlessness, it is clear that polluters are not going to step out of the way--it is up to people to demand that the dated era of fossil fuels transitions into a contemporary clean energy economy. Enough have died at the hands of the fossil-industrial complex.