Sunday, April 18, 2010

Blankenship and Massey getting more scrutiny

When six coal miners and three rescuers died in the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah in 2007, mine operator Robert Murray took a high profile and landed on a national hot seat for his bombastic, control-freak performances and his company's record of cutting corners on safety and contributing to political causes. Now a much hotter seat has been warmed up for Don Blankenship, above, chairman of Massey Energy, whose Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia was the killing ground for 29 miners this month. (Photo by Haraz N. Ghanbari, The Associated Press)

Blankenship has been lower-key than Murray, but journalists have much to chew on. Not only does Massey have a relatively poor record on mine safety, Blankenship is a major political player and his company is a leading practitioner of the most controversial form of coal mining, mountaintop removal in Central Appalachia. This weekend saw a spate of stories about Blankenship and Massey; here's a summary:

"Federal inspectors have found more than 60 serious safety violations at Massey Energy operations since the explosion that killed 29 miners, adding to fallout from the disaster that includes a wrongful-death lawsuit by one of the men's widows," Tim Huber and Lawrence Messina report for The Associated Press. There were 442 citations from April 5 through Thursday; "222 were issued to one Massey property in Kentucky, Freedom Energy Mining Co. in Pike County," Linda J. Johnson and Bill Estep reported for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

In a lawsuit over Massey's last multiple fatality, at the Aracoma mkine in West Virginia in 2006, a local judge recently allowed a group of miners to use as evidence a memo to Blankenship that outlined problems that could have led to the deaths of two miners a week later. The plaintiffs hope to "do something other investigations have not: hold the Massey Energy parent company directly responsible for the fatal fire," Ken Ward Jr. reports for The Charleston Gazette. Logan Circuit Judge Roger L. Perry wrote, "It could be argued that Mr. Blankenship was personally overseeing operations at Aracoma."

Blankenship has been the subject of cartoons, like this one by John Cole of The Times-Tribune in Scranton, and verbal caricatures: "Don Blankenship is the Snidely Whiplash of coal," Michael Shnayerson writes for Vanity Fair magazine. Blankenship's pay has nearly doubled since 2007 "even as some of the coal mines he supervised accumulated safety violations and injuries at rates that greatly exceed national rates," Howard Berkes reports for National Public Radio.

This one isn't journalism, but it reflects the deep distaste some have for Blankenship: Filmmaker Anne Lewis, who did a documentary on his anti-union activities in Kentucky in 1986, publishes a screed about him and lists what she calls the "Massey crime spree" on The Rag Blog, "news and views from the progressive front."

Meanwhile, takes a look at Massey's political contributions and David A. Fahrenthold, Frank Ahrens and Steven Mufson of The Washington Post report how West Virginia's two Democratic senators and its senior Democratic congressman are walking fine political lines in the wake of the disaster. As you might expect, Blankenship is mentioned.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

After some years of covering politics in Appalachian Kentucky, and then being involved in Kentucky politics, i concluded that the destructiveness of coal mining, especially strip and mountain top removal mining, develops in coal mine operators an attitude that life (of others) is not important. the destructiveness of the hills carries over to destructiveness of people, regardless of whether the mining is underground or aboveground.