Who is Don Blankenship? Massey CEO Has Much Explain in Wake of West Virginia Coal Mine Disaster
Don Blankenship is CEO of Massey Energy, the owner of the Upper Big Branch mine that exploded yesterday, killing at least 25 miners with four still missing in the mine. Blankenship is well known as a right-wing crackpot and global warming denier, but I want to paint just a brief picture with regard to this disaster. I’ll start with Rolling Stone’s description of Don Blankenship:
The country’s highest-paid coal executive, Blankenship is a villain ripped straight from the comic books: a jowly, mustache-sporting, union-busting coal baron who uses his fortune to bend politics to his will. He recently financed a $3.5 million campaign to oust a state Supreme Court justice who frequently ruled against his company, and he hung out on the French Riviera with another judge who was weighing an appeal by Massey. “Don Blankenship would actually be less powerful if he were in elected office,” Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia once observed. “He would be twice as accountable and half as feared.”
In late 2005, Blankenship issued a memo to company employees instructing supervisers to “ignore” any directive except to “run coal,” because “coal pays the bills.” That apparently included safety measures to protect the workers who help Blankenship “pay the bills.” This amazing graph from Brad Johnson at Think Progress shows that Blankenship’s employees got the memo. Violations skyrocketed at Massey mines, but most notably at the Upper Big Branch Mine as illustrated below.
Brad Johnson gives some more context to these numbers:
Massey is now contesting $1,128,833 in fines for safety violations at the deadly Upper Big Branch-South Mine, with a further $246,320 in delinquent fines:
Over $2.2 million in fines have been assessed against Massey’s Upper Big Branch-South Mine since 1995, with $791,327 paid. Massey is contesting $1,128,833 in fines. Massey’s delinquent fines total $246,320. [MSHA]
Massey is contesting $251,613 in fines for citations for Upper Big Branch-South Mine’s ventilation plan. [MSHA]
Not that that should phase Blankenship. Mike Lillis at Washington Independent finds a 2003 quote that shows just how little Blankenship cares for his own damn employees.
Over the two years through 2001 Massey was cited by West Virginia officials for violating regulations 501 times. Its three biggest rivals, mining twice as much coal in the state as Massey, were cited a collective 175 times. [CEO Don] Blankenship says Massey is unfairly targeted by regulators.
“We don’t pay much attention to the violation count,” he says.
Blankenship has a day of reckoning coming, or at least he better. As Jeff Biggers, author of several books on coal mining disasters, wrote at HuffPost this morning: “All coal mining safety laws have been written in miners’ blood.” One can only hope there’s an indictment for Blankenship written in the same blood that he spilled.
Oh, and for good measure, Attaturk finds this video that sums up the entirety of the mess that is Don Blankenship.