This article originally provided by
Note: WV Citizens for Clean Elections was instrumental
in passage of the 527 law mentioned in this story.
November 24, 2006
Mining CEO seeks stacked regulatory
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
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