Friday, December 03, 2010

Blankenship out as head of Massey Energy; may have been against proposed sale of the company

UPDATE, Dec. 4: "The unexpected departure comes amid unconfirmed reports that Blankenship opposed the Massey board's consideration of a sale of the giant Appalachian coal producer," Howard Berkes reports for National Public Radio. Dec. 6: The Wall Street Journal says Blankenship's departure may spur a sale; Kris Maher and Joann Lublin take a detailed look. Also, here is Jeff Goodell's profile of Blankenship in Rolling Stone, "The Dark Lord of Coal Country."

Don Blankenship, who ran the biggest coal company in Central Appalachia and perhaps the most controversial in America, is retiring as CEO of Massey Energy, the company said around 6 p.m. today -- without giving a reason, beyond quoting him thusly: "After almost three decades at Massey, it is time for me to move on."

"The move comes amid persistent rumors that Richmond, Va.-based Massey will be sold to another mining firm, and as the company struggles to recover from the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in April, which killed 29 workers and was the worst U.S. mining disaster in more than 40 years," writes Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette, Blankenship's primary journalistic adversary. There were many others. UPDATE, Dec. 10: Ward reports Blankenship will cite his rights against self-incrimination and refuse to testify at a hearing on the disaster.

"Blankenship's tenure has been marked by bitter disputes with the United Mine Workers union, a series of workplace and environmental disasters, and controversial political involvement that has increasingly drawn negative national attention for Massey," Ward writes. "In the past two years alone, Massey has paid the largest fines ever for a coal-mining death case and for water pollution violations by a mining operator -- $4.5 million for the fatal Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine fire and $20 million in a water pollution deal with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency."

This week, Massey said it would close an Eastern Kentucky mine that the U.S. Department of Labor had gone to court to seize for its pattern of dangerous violations, the first time the department had taken such a step. UMW President Cecil Roberts said Blankenship's departure "brings to a close a long and difficult chapter in the history of the coal industry, one that has all too often been associated with human tragedy."

Blankenship poured millions of dollars into elections, unseating a West Virginia Supreme Court justice whose replacement was a deciding vote in dismissing a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against Massey. In a precedent-setting decision, the U.S. Supreme Court said the judge should have recused, but Massey won again after a replacement justice was appointed.

Roberts said in his prepared statement that Blankenship and Massey were much to blame for "the negative image that has cast a pall over our industry." Others made similar comments. "He was like a caricature of all that was wrong with the industry today," Cindy Rank, mining chair for the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, told Ward, adding that Blankenship may have perversely helped environmentalists by attracting attention to mountaintop-removal mining. West Virginia Coal Association executives seemed stunned; one called the announcement "unreal." (Read more) For the company's release, via Ward's Coal Tatoo blog, go here.

1 comment:

Stan Dotson said...

I wrote about Don Blankenship and the American Dream/American Nightmare today on my blog site, Daily Passages (a site that explores the connections between spirituality and culture). You can check it out at