Remember Don Blankenship, the Simon LeGree of coal mining? The man Rolling Stone called “the dark lord of coal country”? The guy who called the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 mine workers “an act of God” and blamed mine safety regulations for the disaster?
That disaster led to a record $200 million settlement, the sale of the company, and calls for ex-CEO Blankenship to be sent to jail for gross negligence.
Is Don Blankenship in jail? Of course not! He’s in Kentucky … or maybe Tennessee:
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Don Blankenship, the former Massey Energy executive whom many hold accountable for the explosion that killed 29 West Virginia coal miners, virtually vanished from public view a year ago this week. But he’s kept a toe in the mining business and may be angling to raise his profile.
Public records show that Blankenship has incorporated a new venture in Kentucky. Paperwork for McCoy Coal Group Inc. of Belfry, Ky., has been on file since January, though, and it has yet to seek a single mining permit, says Kentucky Energy and Environment spokesman Dick Brown.
Blankenship was pressured into retiring last December amid the fallout from the Upper Big Branch mine explosion, the worst U.S. mining disaster in four decades.
He is listed as McCoy’s president and may be living in Tennessee. A person who answered a call for Blankenship on Thursday said he could not come to the phone.
Well isn’t that special. Blankenship got a $12 million golden parachute and a two-year non-compete agreement when he exited Massey; McCoy Coal Group isn’t operating yet, but keep your eyes open, because when those two years are up we might be seeing more miners sent to do the Dark Lord’s bidding. The investors behind McCoy Coal might want to be careful, though: with Blankenship at the helm, Massey subsidiaries had to spend millions on criminal fines and penalties because of its flagrant disregard for worker safety. Blankenship is a serial offender, it appears.
Then again, there’s still a chance that Blankenship will be sporting an orange jumpsuit in the coming months:
Both Goodwin and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made it clear they intend to pursue possible criminal charges against individual executives, officers or employees of either Massey or Performance Coal. Holder emphasized the agency will continue “to investigate individuals associated with this tragedy.”
The MSHA report on its investigation of the tragedy focused on the wealth of evidence that Massey covered up safety conditions at Upper Big Branch mine by keeping hazards out of official records, warning workers underground of impending safety inspections and even intimidating miners to keep them from reporting safety violations.
Millions of dollars spent in criminal fines, civil penalties, lawsuits, and restitution to victims. Scratch that, make that hundreds of millions of dollars. Not to mention environmental damage, health damages, climate change, and things like TVA’s own coal slurry spill in Kingston, TN. Yeah, just keep telling yourself that coal is the cheapest form of energy we have (sure, it is cheap! When you socialize the losses!) and that there’s such a thing as “Clean Coal.” Then click your heels and transport yourself to the magical land of Free Market Fantasies, where the problem is regulation, not greedy assholes like Don Blankenship. That Kool-Aid sure must taste good.
(h/t to commenter Randy for the heads-up!)