Don Blankenship, Dark Lord of Coal Country, Implicated in Upper Big Branch Mine Explosion Deaths

Don Blankenship, Dark Lord of Coal Country, Implicated in Upper Big Branch Mine Explosion Deaths
on

Just under three years ago, an explosion in the Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal, West Virginia stole the lives of 29 miners. Many were quick to condemn Massey Energy – the coal giant that operated the mine – for their long record of lax safety oversight, and to bemoan the preventability of the disaster.

Blame was directed straight to the top of the company, to then-CEO Don Blankenship, “the dark lord of coal country” himself, who had grown a vile reputation in the field for systematically putting production and profit over worker safety.

Late last week, in a surprise twist during a routine plea hearing in a federal court, all that blame was seemingly justified as Blankenship was directly implicated in conspiring to skirt safety regulations. A former Massey Energy official called our his boss, Blankenship himself, for conspiring and plotting to hide safety violations from federal safety inspectors.

The implication was that Blankenship would order his officials to warn mine operators when the federal inspectors were coming for “surprise” visits, and to quickly cover up any safety violations. 

In his article about the hearing, Ken Ward, Jr, described the testimony:

But a fairly routine plea hearing here took a surprising twist when U.S. District Judge Irene Berger pressed Hughart to name his co-conspirators and Hughart responded, “the chief executive officer.”

Though he was not mentioned by name, Blankenship was then CEO, and Hughart’s wife confirmed to the Associated Press the target of the implication:

“Don called the office and at home,” she said, adding that her husband has been threatened several times in his career. “Anyone that did not comply was threatened. We lived under fear.”

The United Mine Workers of America were quick to respond to the allegations, and are calling for Blankenship’s indictment and conviction for the 29 deaths.

Those of us who have observed Blankenship’s lawless ways over the past many years have long predicted this day would come if the facts ever came out.

Finally there is a witness to Blankenship’s misdeeds who will step forward and tell what he knows. Hopefully more will follow suit.  If the investigation into the tragedy at the Upper Big Branch mine is to be complete, Don Blankenship’s indictment – and then conviction – is the only possible outcome.

So what next? If the U.S. Attorney working the investigation, Booth Goodwin, is going to go after Blankenship, he is still keeping his cards close to his chest. Local commentators seem to think that Goodwin is trying to work his way up the ladder and build a case that’ll go all the way up to the dark lord himself. 

Don Blankenship, Dark Lord of Coal Country, Implicated in Upper Big Branch Mine Explosion Deaths
Ben Jervey is a Senior Fellow for DeSmog and directs the KochvsClean.com project. He is a freelance writer, editor, and researcher, specializing in climate change and energy systems and policy. Ben is also a Research Fellow at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School. He was the original Environment Editor for GOOD Magazine, and wrote a longstanding weekly column titled “The New Ideal: Building the clean energy economy of the 21st Century and avoiding the worst fates of climate change.” He has also contributed regularly to National Geographic News, Grist, and OnEarth Magazine. He has published three books—on eco-friendly living in New York City, an Energy 101 primer, and, most recently, “The Electric Battery: Charging Forward to a Low Carbon Future.” He graduated with a BA in Environmental Studies from Middlebury College, and earned a Master’s in Energy Regulation and Law at Vermont Law School. A bicycle enthusiast, Ben has ridden across the United States and through much of Europe.

Related Posts

on

Matthew Lesh will be joining the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a free market think tank which played a significant role in advocating for a "hard" Brexit and has criticised the government's approach to climate action as expensive and ineffective.

Matthew Lesh will be joining the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a free market think tank which played a significant role in advocating for a "hard" Brexit and has criticised the government's approach to climate action as expensive and ineffective.
on

Since Monday, activists have racked up 585 arrests at protests in Washington, D.C., while pushing the President to declare a climate emergency ahead of international climate negotiations.

Since Monday, activists have racked up 585 arrests at protests in Washington, D.C., while pushing the President to declare a climate emergency ahead of international climate negotiations.
on

A new report finds that half of Canada’s oil and gas jobs could disappear by 2030 as the country presses on with a clean energy transition. But the federal and provincial governments are not doing enough to prepare workers for the change

A new report finds that half of Canada’s oil and gas jobs could disappear by 2030 as the country presses on with a clean energy transition. But the federal and provincial governments are not doing enough to prepare workers for the change
on

Responding to the analysis, Phil MacDonald, chief operating officer of Ember, said this was “exactly the kind of research that the UK government should be doing before it makes a decision on funding BECCS”. 

Responding to the analysis, Phil MacDonald, chief operating officer of Ember, said this was “exactly the kind of research that the UK government should be doing before it makes a decision on funding BECCS”.