That deadly mine explosion? Just part of the business, CEO says
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
The tragedy in the West Virginia coal mine earlier this week is horrific in too many ways to enumerate here, from the deaths themselves, to the pain and loss endured by the dead men’s families, to the psychological devastation it leaves behind in the hollows of Appalachia. While it’s way too early to assess what really happened — and whether there’s any malfeasance involved — expect to see a lot of spotlight time for Don L. Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, which owns Performance Coal, in whose mine the tragedy unfolded.
And it will not be a glowing, responsible corporate executive we’ll see. These two pieces, one from the New York Times, and the other from Rolling Stone, give a good sense of the character of the man, whom RS described as “a villain ripped straight from the comic books.” A more apt comparison might be with the protagonist Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) in “There Will be Blood,” which plays out the effects of greed gone wild.
And Blankenship (or one of his PR guys) tweets, including this recent beaut: “The Sierra Club filed 983 lawsuits against the fed gov’t over 9 years. They tie up the legal system AND private industry w/ frivolous suits.” Among the things the Sierra Club is fighting: Blankenship’s practice of blowing off the tops of mountains to get at the coal, and destroying valleys and streams beds eons in the making for the sake of short-term profit (disclaimer: I have written about the coal industry for Sierra magazine). Even Wall Street doesn’t like the guy.
It is still unclear what caused Monday’s blast, which is under investigation. But the disaster has raised new questions about Massey’s attention to safety under the leadership of its pugnacious chief executive, Don L. Blankenship, and about why stricter federal laws, put into effect after a mining disaster in 2006, failed to prevent another tragedy.
[. . .]
In an interview with the Metronews radio network in West Virginia, Mr. Blankenship said that despite the company’s many violations, the Mine Safety and Health Administration would never have allowed the mine to operate if it had been unsafe.
“Violations are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process,” Mr. Blankenship said.
“There are violations at every coal mine in America, and U.B.B. was a mine that had violations,” he added, referring to Upper Big Branch.
Yep, unsafe working conditions are just part of the business, folks. Nothing to see here, move along … and take your lawyers and regulators with you.