This article originally provided by The Lexington Herald-Leader

Note: WV Citizens for Clean Elections was instrumental in passage of the 527 law mentioned in this story.

November 24, 2006

Scurrilous mission

Mining CEO seeks stacked regulatory deck

If you left the table yesterday with room to give more thanks, be grateful that you don't work in one of Don Blankenship's coal mines.

Blankenship just bankrolled an unsuccessful $2 million independent campaign to elect Republicans to the West Virginia legislature. He's also CEO of Massey Energy, the company responsible for a huge coal-waste spill in Kentucky in 2000 and owner of the West Virginia mine where two miners died in January after a conveyer belt caught fire.

That mine's litany of safety violations released earlier this month reads like a laundry list of why Don I. Bragg and Ellery Elvis Hatfield should still be alive: There was no smoke alarm where they worked. The battery was disconnected in the alarm where the fire started. The workers received no warning for 40 minutes. Thick smoke and carbon monoxide filled a primary escape tunnel because ventilation walls were missing. The water had been shut off to a fire hose and automatic sprinklers.

And the belt on the coal conveyer where the fire began had a history of malfunctioning, including during the shift before the fire. But keeping the coal rolling came before fixing a life-threatening problem. The misaligned belt kept rubbing against a bearing, creating friction that caused the fire.

In addition to seven citations issued to Massey's Aracoma Coal Co., West Virginia officials cited 16 Massey employees, most of them managers, for knowingly violating safety rules.

"The two victims' lives could have been saved with early intervention and a fire suppression system that worked," said J. Davitt McAteer, who headed an investigation into the tragedy for Gov. Joe Manchin. Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, called the mine a "death trap."

Massey issued a statement saying the company is "committed to working with federal and state agencies to fully understand the causes of the accident and to prevent a similar occurrence."

Sounds good. Except that what Blankenship seems most committed to is remaking government with his fortune so he can break the rules with impunity and not have to work with any safety agencies on anything.

Blankenship is on a mission to elect a Supreme Court and legislature in West Virginia that he thinks would be less sympathetic to victims and their families and more sympathetic to coal companies. He put $1.7 million into defeating a Supreme Court justice in 2004.

Blankenship also has been a generous contributor to Republicans in Washington. Massey's PAC gave $100,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2002, five months after the U.S. Department of Labor, under Secretary Elaine Chao, issued a wrist slap of a fine against Massey for causing the spill that blackened Kentucky and West Virginia waterways with a flood of coal gunk.

Blankenship styled his campaign to defeat Democrats this year as a pro-child movement and calls it "And For the Sake of the KIDS."

Voters weren't fooled. Republican Party leaders blamed Blankenship for their candidates' poor showing.

That's something else for which to be thankful. And if you do work in one of Blankenship's mines, we're thankful you're still with us.

Voter-Owned Elections

Citizens for Clean Elections P.O. Box 6753 Huntington, WV 25773-6753 304-522-0246