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Investigating Massey Energy and Don Blankenship (WV coal mining explosion, 29 dead)

Discussion in 'Opinions, Beliefs, & Points of View' started by Bob26003, Apr 16, 2010.

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  1. Bob26003

    Bob26003 Well-Known Member

    on April 5, 2010, 29 coal miners lost their lives in the worst mining disaster in a generation

    a byproduct of policies of de regulation, de unionizing, not enforcing existing safety laws, and stipping regulating bodies powers etc?


    For anyone who has yet to connect the dots between Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's history of buying judicial seats, his ability to dodge multi-million dollar lawsuits and his attempts to de-unionize and de-regulate the mining industry, a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder calling for a RICO investigation into Blankenship's criminal behavior lays it out clearly.

    The letter, penned by Attorney Kevin Zeese, on behalf of StoptheChamber.com and Velvet Revolution, a non-profit watchdog group, provides Holder a punch list of Blankenship's alleged illegal activity including what Zeese says is prima facie evidence of obstruction of justice, fraud and homicide.

    "Massey Energy consistently sacrifices the welfare of its employees in order to boost the bottom line. The latest death of 29 miners represents the fourth fatal accident in 12 years at Massey mines. The Upper Big Branch mine has racked up 1,342 safety violations since 2005, drawing $1.89 million in fines. And, 86 of those violations were for an inadequate ventilation plan that prevents the very type of explosions that caused these deaths. Last year alone, Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine was cited for 495 violations and $911,802 in fines. So far this year, regulators have found 105 violations at the mine. Twelve of those citations were issued in the last month. The same day of the explosion, the Upper Big Branch mine was hit with two additional safety violations."

    Blankenship refuses to pay these million dollar fines and cleverly avoids Massey shutdowns by tying up the courts with appeals cases.

    "Mr. Blankenship has challenged hundreds of citations and refused to pay fines. Figures show that Massey tops the coal industry in challenging citations. Last year, Massey contested 34 percent of its alleged violations, compared with the national average of 27 percent that year. Massey is contesting violations valued at $10 million, a total of 11.2 percent of all the contested violations before the commission. While Massey contests these citations, it ignores the safety violations."

    Massey, the parent company of Martin County Coal was also responsible for the October 2000 Kentucky coal slurry spill that has been characterized as the "nation's largest man-made environmental disaster east of the Mississippi," three times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill. Despite this environmental catastrophe, Blankenship was able to dodge fines, largely in part due to his ties with the GOP leadership in Congress. The letter indicates:

    "After the Martin County Coal spill, then-U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, who oversaw the MSHA, "put on the brakes" on an agency investigation into the spill by placing a staffer to her husband, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), in charge. In 2002, a Labor Department judge levied a $5,600 fine. "In September 2002, Massey's PAC gave $100,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee," which McConnell had previously chaired. Overall, McConnell has been one of the top recipients of Massey-related contributions, collecting $13,550 from Massey-connected contributors. Blankenship's contributions to Republicans helped him place allies at the highest levels of the federal mine safety system during the Bush administration. Massey COO Stanley Suboleski was named a commissioner of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission in 2003 and was nominated in December 2007 to run the Energy Department's Office of Fossil Energy. Suboleski is now again on the Massey board. After being rejected twice by the Senate, President Bush put one-time Massey executive Dick Stickler in charge of the MSHA by a recess appointment in October 2006. In the 1990s, Stickler oversaw Massey subsidiary Performance Coal, the operator of the deadly Upper Big Branch Mine, after managing Beth Energy mines, which "incurred injury rates double the national average." Bush named Stickler acting secretary when the recess appointment expired in January 2008."

    Blankenship is also on the Board of Directors of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Recently, the U.S. Chamber spent over $1 million sponsoring a Labor Day Tea Party Rally. Massey has given vast amounts of money to the U.S. Chamber while refusing to pay for the safety of his employees. But that's no surprise as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent millions to elect State Supreme Court judges who will rule the bench in favor of big business. Zeese notes:

    "As a board member of the United States Chamber of Commerce, Blankenship has a direct hand in how they spend their money. And over the last decade, the Chamber has spent over $50 million to elect judges that agree with its ideological position. For instance, in Michigan, one of the judges the Chamber spent millions to elect in 2000 was Judge Robert Young of the Michigan Supreme Court. Young has paid back the Chamber and Blankenship in spades, even co-signing an amicus brief in 2009 to the Supreme Court in the Caperton v. Massey case. Mr. Blankenship's involvement in Chamber expenditures amounts to a quid-pro-quo and a conflict of interest."

    In 2004 Blankenship, under Massey, spent $3 million to elect West Virginia State Supreme Court of Appeals Judge Brent Benjamin during an appeal to overturn a huge damage award for forcing competitor Harman Mining Corporation into bankruptcy. Not surprisingly, Benjamin ruled in favor of Massey. Zeese states:

    "The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal Co that Mr. Blankenship's spending $3 million on a successful campaign to oust a state Supreme Court justice who frequently opposed him "had a significant and disproportionate influence" on the election's outcome. It reversed the decision that favored Massey."

    Blankenship's trend of discriminating against union workers and ignoring government regulation is part of a broader policy by the U.S. Chamber to protect the coal and oil industry from government restrictions. The Chamber has spent billions of dollars on behalf of big business lobbying to loosen government controls on safety and pollutants. So it comes as no surprise that Blankenship put his employee's safety second to company profits. Zeese writes:

    "It is clear from the above list that Mr. Blankenship 1) does not want his mines to be regulated, 2) does not believe that public officials in Washington have a right to regulate the safety of his mines, 3) will avoid and ignore regulations, citations, and fines, 4) considers the bottom line and profits as more important than the safety of his workers, 5) treats worker deaths as a cost of business and a public relations problem that must not be allowed to affect the stock of Massey, 6) sees politicians and judges as mere pawns who can be bought to protect him and his company, 7) considers the Chamber of Commerce, with its army of lobbyists and lawyers, and unlimited funds, as his front line of defense to any problem he or his company faces, and 8) will make broad use of fear, intimidation, threats, suits and even violence to avoid scrutiny."

    Zeese warns Holder that Blankenship will further evade scrutiny if the mine deaths are treated as a Labor Department administrative or investigative issue.

    "The only way that Blankenship will be stopped is through the criminal justice system. He has thumbed his nose at regulators, paid off politicians and judges, and views himself as entitled and above the law. The time has come to stop this man's crime spree, which has left a wide path of death and destruction, broken families, and fatherless children. There can be no more business as usual with ineffective agency investigations, fines
    that are written off or ignored, and legislation that can be circumvented. The reason we have law enforcement is to protect us from harm, and we have now officially called on the Attorney General to stop Don Blankenship before he kills again."



    Suprise Suprise!

    Massey Energy & Don Blankenship: Million-dollar Tea Party sponsors

    Meet Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy Company. Blankenship is also on the Board of Directors of the US Chamber of Commerce. In this speech above, he denies climate change, derisively refers to Speaker Pelosi, Senator Reid, and others as "greeniacs", and calls them all crazy. Watch the speech, you'll see. In his mind, "the greeniacs are taking over the world."

    Massey Energy Company, Blankenship's highly successful strip-mining and mountaintop removal operation is the parent company of Performance Coal Co, where a tragic explosion occurred on April 5th. As of this writing, 25 miners have died and 4 more are still missing. Twenty-five families are without a loved one. Four more may discover they have lost someone they love too. 29 families in all, forever changed by one single, violent event in a coal mine. One single violent event in a coal mine run by a company so obsessed with profit it runs roughshod over employees' and neighbors' health and safety.

    Here's something else about Don Blankenship and Massey Energy Company: Blankenship spent over $1 million dollars along with other US Chamber buddies like Verizon to sponsor last year's Labor Day Tea Party, also known as the "Friends of America Rally." Here's Massey's pitch. Note how he makes it sound like he isn't one of the corporate enemies of America.

    The Friends of America Rally featured such notables as Sean Hannity, Ted Nugent, and Hank Williams, Jr., and was graced by Blankenship himself going off on a diatribe that seemed strange at the time, but has come to be commonplace these days. It concerned President Obama, Democrats, and any one who doesn't salute God, coal, and apple pie. Oh, and we're also going to 'steal their jobs,' if Hannity is to be believed.

    Blankenship and Massey Energy spend millions to defend unsafe workplaces

    Even while coal dust settles on nearby schoolchildren, there are lessons to learn from this disaster about Massey Energy in general, and Don Blankenship in particular.

    It seems that Performance Coal's safety record is spotty, at best. From the Mississippi Business Journal:

    Massey ranks among the nation’s top five coal producers and is among the industry’s most profitable. It has a spotty safety record.

    The federal mine safety administration fined Massey a then-record $1.5 million for 25 violations that inspectors concluded contributed to the deaths of two miners trapped in a fire in January 2006. The company later settled a lawsuit naming it, several subsidiaries and Chief Executive Don Blankenship as defendants. Aracoma Coal Co. later paid $2.5 million in fines after the company pleaded guilty to 10 criminal charges in the fire.

    Massey and Blankenship also settled a lawsuit brought by the Manville Trust in 2007 with regard to workplace safety and environmental compliance.

    The Manville Trust filed the case in July 2007 against company Chairman, CEO, and President Don Blankenship and certain other current and former officers and directors. The plaintiff sought several corporate governance reforms, specifically regarding environmental compliance and worker safety. Citing several incidents involving Massey Energy, including a major federal water pollution lawsuit, penalties for two coal miners' tragic deaths and other safety and environmental compliance problems, the lawsuit claimed that a "conscious failure" by the defendants to ensure compliance with federal and state regulations and other legal obligations posed a "substantial threat of monetary liability for violations."

    Keep unions out, let teabaggers in

    Don Blankenship inhabits a strange and bizarre world. In his world:
    It's fine for elementary school-age children to inhale coal dust while playing at school because Massey Coal "already pays millions of dollars in taxes each year".
    Blankenship truly believes that government regulation means "we all better learn to speak Chinese."
    He has absolutely no problem paying $3 million to elect state Supreme Court justice Brent Benjamin just ahead of a scheduled hearing of his appeal to overturn a large damage award for driving competitor Harman Mining Corporation into bankruptcy.
    Blankenship will spend millions to keep the Massey Energy's workforce non-union, is perfectly happy to discriminate against union workers even if it means being sued and losing, and might hate unions as much as he hates 'greeniacs'.

    This is the same mine where the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently ruled that Spartan Mining illegally discriminated against 82 UMWA members by refusing to hire them because of their union membership status.

    “This settlement highlights yet again the treacherous and backhanded manner Massey treated the miners who had worked at the Cannelton mine for decades,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “While it was discriminating against these experienced miners because of their age or union status, the company was at the same time publicly crying about the lack of experienced miners in the coalfields.

    “But it wasn’t that Massey couldn’t find experienced miners,” Roberts said. “They were there all along and wanted to work. It was that the company would rather break the law than allow its employees to have a strong voice at work and the tremendous benefits of a union contract.

    Penny-wise, pound-foolish. An investment in experienced workers trained in state-of-the art safety measures combined with OSHA compliance and mine safety measures might have saved at least 25, and possibly 29 lives.

    Instead Don Blankenship spent that money and more on a US Chamber of Commerce corporate-sponsored tea party to convince good, hard-working honest people to work against their best interests.

    I hope those families take a large pound of flesh from him in return.

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 16, 2010
  2. Bob26003

    Bob26003 Well-Known Member

    Re: Investigating Massey Energy and Don Blankenship (WV coal mining explosion, 29 dea

    This filthy scumbag blankenship should be in prison. He represents your typical right wing corporate scumbag. Why conservatives insist on showering these people with ANYTHING they so desire and handing our Gov. over to them is beyond me.

    CEO of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, Should Be Criminally Charged

    by Kevin Zeese / April 15th, 2010

    Were it not for the deliberate actions of Don Blankenship and Massey Energy the deaths of 29 miners in West Virginia would not have occurred. These deaths were foreseeable, even predicted, and this is not the first time Massey has caused the deaths of miners.

    Massey Energy has been fined millions of dollars for its violations of mine safety and has already settled one case where miners were killed with criminal and civil fines totaling more than $4 million. It is time to stop coddling corporate criminals like Blankenship and hold them accountable for their actions.

    Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine, the site of the deaths, has been cited 1,342 times for safety violations since 2005. And 86 of those violations were for an inadequate ventilation plan that prevents the very type of explosions that caused these deaths. Last year alone, Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine was cited for 495 violations and $911,802 in fines. So far this year, regulators have found 105 violations at the mine. Twelve of those citations were issued in the last month. The same day of the explosion, the Upper Big Branch mine was hit with two additional safety violations.

    According to The New York Times: “In the past two months, miners had been evacuated three times from the Upper Big Branch because of dangerously high methane levels, according to two miners who asked for anonymity for fear of losing their jobs. Representative Nick J. Rahall II, a Democrat whose district includes the mine, said he had received similar reports from miners about recent evacuations at the mine, which as recently as last month was fined at least three times for ventilation problems, according to federal records.”

    So Massey was well aware of the inadequate ventilation that led to the explosion that killed the miners. It will not be the first time that Massey was guilty of actions that led to death.

    In fact, in 2008, Massey’s subsidiary, Aracoma Coal, was charged by the Department of Justice with wilful violation of mandatory safety standards, one count resulting in the death of two miners, and with making a false statement. Massey settled these criminal charges along with civil violations for $4.2 million in criminal and civil penalties — the largest financial settlement in the coal industry’s history. The corporation pled guilty to criminal mine safety violations that led to the deaths. Testimony showed Blankenship suggested firing two supervisors for raising concerns about safety problems with the conveyer belt just before the belt caught fire, causing the deaths.

    And this was not the first time miners have died at the Upper Big Branch Mine. Since 1998, three other miners have died at the Upper Big Branch mine. All of which confirms the conclusion of Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO and former head of the United Mine Workers of America, put forward: “This incident isn’t just a matter of happenstance, but rather the inevitable result of a profit-driven system and reckless corporate conduct.”

    Massey and Blankenship are repeat offenders. It is time for them to be held accountable for their actions so that they stop putting profits before people. Blankenship emphasizes that “coal pays the bills” and in a 2005 memo he told mine workers that if their bosses ask them to take safety precautions like building roof supports or performing similar tasks, “ignore them and run coal.” Terry Holstein, who worked at Upper Big Branch until 2006, quitting after 10 years because he didn’t like the way Massey ran the mine, says “they wanted production more than they wanted safety.”

    Investors are calling for Blankenship to be removed as CEO. CtW Investment Group sent a letter to the Massey Energy board citing Blankenship’s “confrontational approach to regulatory compliance” as the cause of the deaths. New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, overseer of New York’s Common Retirement Fund, which owns 303,550 shares of Massey stock, valued at $14.1 million said “Massey’s cavalier attitude toward risk and callous disregard for the safety of its employees has exacted a horrible cost on dozens of hard-working miners and their loved ones.”

    These deaths were entirely predictable. In June 2009, David Akrush of Public Citizen warned the White House: “Every day that these safety violations go unresolved, the chance that this nation will see another tragic mining accident grows.” Federal and state investigations have begun. They will be examining the debris in the mine and interviewing miners and company officials, as well as reviewing documents related to the mine. Hindsight will be helpful but people saw this tragedy coming.

    It is time for accountability. The Board should immediately remove Blankenship and state and federal authorities should hold him responsible for the gross negligence of Massey Energy toward mine safety. It is time for this repeat offender to be put out of business.

  3. Bob26003

    Bob26003 Well-Known Member

    Re: Investigating Massey Energy and Don Blankenship (WV coal mining explosion, 29 dea

    As you know, bush and repuglicans absolutely refused to enforce any workplace safety laws. Especially in mines. This comes as a welcome change.


    Obama Orders Mine Safety Crackdown, Six Massey Mines on Serial Violators List

    by Mike Hall, Apr 15, 2010 39

    President Obama today ordered a federal safety blitz on coal mines with a history of safety violations, like Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch where 29 miners were killed April 5. He also called for stronger enforcement of current mine safety laws and closing loopholes “that permit companies to shirk their responsibilities.”

    Speaking specifically of the West Virginia mine disaster, Obama says:

    The people of West Virginia are in our prayers. But we owe them more than prayers. We owe them action. We owe them accountability. We owe them an assurance that when they go to work every day, when they enter that dark mine, they are not alone.

    Owners responsible for conditions in the Upper Big Branch mine should be held accountable for decisions they made and preventive measures they failed to take.

    Mine Workers (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts, who yesterday called for the arrest and jailing of Massey CEO Donald Blankenship, says Obama “hit the nail on the head.”

    The issues surrounding the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine are very troubling, and we need to get to the bottom of what happened there. But we must go further and deal with the larger issue of serial “safety violators like Massey” that must be addressed.

    Before addressing reporters in the Rose Garden, Obama met with Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) chief Joe Main and other MSHA officials who briefed the president on the latest in the investigation of the Upper Big Branch blast.

    Obama told Solis to work closely with Congress to strengthen existing laws and also to consult with the U.S. Department of Justice “to ensure that every tool in the federal government is available in this investigation.”

    The focus on mine safety, says Obama, isn’t “just about a single mine. It’s about all of our mines.”

    The safety record at the Massey Upper Big Branch mine was troubling. And it’s clear that while there are many responsible companies, far too many mines aren’t doing enough to protect their workers’ safety.

    Yesterday, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, released the list of 48 mines (32 coal mines and 16 other types of mines) identified by MSHA officials in August 2009 for increased scrutiny, but were not targeted due to unresolved appeals filed by mine operators. Upper Big Branch and five other Massey coal mines are on the list.

    When a violation is under appeal, it does not count in the formula MSHA uses to initiate the tougher inspections and penalties, including closure of the mine for unsafe conditions. Miller says he released the list because

    we owe it to the families of these fallen miners, all mining communities across the country, and the American people to ensure that all relevant information regarding potentially dangerous conditions at mines be made public, especially as investigations into the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine continue. Mine operators who game the system to avoid tough scrutiny by federal safety officials must be held accountable.

    Click here for the list.

    Obama said one tool to help save lives is the right of miners to refuse to work—without fear of reprisal—in unsafe conditions, even in nonunion mines. Roberts says he “applauds” Obama’s “determination that miners must have the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions.”

    UMWA members have that right written into our contracts, but nonunion miners do not have the protection of a contract and are at risk of being fired if they refuse to work in conditions that threaten their lives or their health.

  4. pit

    pit Well-Known Member

    Re: Investigating Massey Energy and Don Blankenship (WV coal mining explosion, 29 dea

    Obama Orders Mine Safety Crackdown --

    The first thing I'd do if I became President is order a crackdown on something. That would be so cool.
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