What Fresh Hell Is This?

April 6, 2010

Massey Energy: Hundreds of Safety Violations; Thousands of Environmental Violations

Even their logo looks hellish.

Most of you have already heard that a devastating blast at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia has killed 25 workers with 4 workers still missing.

It's the worst U.S. mining disaster since 1984.

The mine is owned by Massey Energy and is run by its subsidiary Performance Coal Company which according to an AP article in the Post-Gazette has "a history of violations for not properly ventilating highly combustible methane gas."

That article further states:
In the past year, federal inspectors fined the company more than $382,000 for repeated serious violations involving its ventilation plan and equipment at Upper Big Branch. The violations also cover failing to follow the plan, allowing combustible coal dust to pile up, and having improper firefighting equipment.
The New York Times has more:
Federal records indicate that the Upper Big Branch mine has recorded an injury rate worse than the national average for similar operations for at least six of the past 10 years. The records also show that the mine had 458 violations in 2009, with a total of $897,325 in safety penalties assessed against it last year. It has paid $168,393 in safety penalties.

“Massey’s commitment to safety has long been questioned in the coalfields,” said Tony Oppegard, a lawyer and mine safety advocate from Kentucky.

Those concerns, he said, were heightened in 2006 when an internal memo written by Mr. Blankenship became public. In the memo, Mr. Blankenship instructed the company’s underground mine superintendents to place coal production first.

“This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that the coal pays the bills,” he wrote.
With that kind of attitude on worker safety, it shouldn't be at all surprising that Massey and company CEO Don Blankenship are equally cavalier with the public's safety.

According to Wikipedia:
In early 2008, the company agreed to a $20 million settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‎ (EPA) to resolve thousands of violations of the Clean Water Act for routinely polluting waterways in Kentucky and West Virginia with coal slurry and wastewater. Although this was the largest Clean Water Act settlement, the violations were estimated to have fines on the order of $2.4 billion. Over 700 miles of rivers and streams in the coalfields have been buried by the waste rock left over from mountaintop removal, a method of strip mining coal which requires the blowing up of mountain tops, removing from 500 to 800 feet (240 m) of mountaintop in the process. This method of coal mining has created some of the worst environmental disasters in the Mississippi area in regards to the poisoning of waterways, the flooding of local communities, and the destruction of the biodiversity of the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

In October 2000, a Massey Energy subsidiary in Martin County, Kentucky accidentally released 306 million gallons of coal slurry waste from an impoundment into two mountain streams, Coldwater Creek and Wolf Creek (see photo right). The Martin County sludge spill was called the worst ever environmental disaster in the southeastern United States by the EPA. The spill smothered all aquatic life in the streams and left residents with contaminated drinking water. Cleanup costs for the spill were approximately $50 million.
Blankenship has also personally made it known that business interests should come before any environmental considerations (via SourceWatch):
At a November 2008 meeting of the Tug Valley Mining Institute in West Virginia, Don Blankenship described environmental groups, along with Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, as "Totally wrong. Nonsense. Absolutely crazy." He referred to reporters at the Charleston Gazette, a paper that has published numerous articles about the environmental effects of coal, as "communists" and "atheists." He also argued that the international scope of greenhouse gas emissions makes it futile to reduce carbon emissions in the U.S., saying, "Its nonsensical, its idiotic... If Pelosi thinks that decreasing CO2 in this country is going to save the polar bears, she’s crazy. If CO2 emissions are going to kill the polar bears, it’s going to happen. What we do here [in the US] is not going to [do] it." Blankenship also declared that business interests should come before environmental issues, and he questioned the ability of the general public to understand anything beyond simple environmental concepts.
And, if all that wasn't bad enough, Blankenship also waged "a multi-million dollar advertising campaign...to elect a West Virginia Supreme Court judge to preside over cases his company had before the court may push the U.S. Supreme Court to act."

Via ABC News:
Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens Tuesday called the case one of the most "extreme" of its kind that the high court has ever considered. The situation fit Justice Potter Stuart's infamous definition of obscenity, Stevens said, "I know it when I see it."
Here's Coal Boss Don Blankenship roughing up an ABC reporter in 2008:

Our condolences to the families of the workers killed in the blast, as well as all those harmed by Massey.


Maria said...

You can read Blankenship bitch and moan on Twitter here.

spork_incident said...

Cameraman: Don't touch me!
Blankenship: You're touching me!

What, is this guy six years-old?

A Spork in the Drawer

Heir to the Throne said...

Remember when the nutroots blamed Republicans for the last mine disaster?

Conservative consequences at coal mines

Maria said...

I somehow missed this P-G article on their saety violations.

Clyde Wynant said...

Talk to the actuaries.

They run the show. They determine if safety violations are cheaper than fixing a problem. I mean, I don't blame them directly. They are pawns of upper management, but this is how American business works. Massey, Toyota. It's all the same. And it's all about money.

A pretty good movie about this is "Class Action," with Gene Hackman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.

The Furman Files said...

When the fee at a parking meter is $0.25 for 15 minutes and the cost of a parking ticket is $40.00, people feed the meter. They might throw in an extra quarter.

If the parking fee at the meter was $100 and the fine was $40, no one would feed the meter.

The penalty must be greater than the cost of non-compliance.

Sarbanes Oxley established that the CEO and the CFO are liable for financial information presented to stockholders, investors, and the SEC on annual reports. If the financial reports are fraudulent, the CEO can go to jail.

The events at the Upper Big Branch Mine, and at other underground and strip mines, suggest that the CEO, Board of Directors, and Management should be liable for worker safety and damage to the community. If the company commits negligent homicide, the CEO should face jail.