Grist: hating on Don Blankenship before hating on Don Blankenship was cool
The tragedy at the Upper Big Branch Mine has prompted lots of folks in the national media to take a close look at Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship for the first time, but I wrote my first post on Blankenship (“Massey Energy CEO is a really bad dude“) in 2006, and Goodell wrote about Blankenship is his 2007 book Big Coal, and so all I can say is: we told you so.
I consider myself a fair and balanced kind of journalist. I like to let both sides have their say. So in that spirit, let’s acknowledge up front that Blankenship may not, in fact, be a sociopath. Medically speaking. There’s been no clinical diagnosis.
That said … c’mon.
I mean right? If there’s anything worse than dead-eyed disregard for human life, it’s dead-eyed disregard for human life delivered from beneath an almost aggressively unpleasant mustache.
My first and still best piece on Blankenship was written for a now-deceased magazine called Old Trout. Though the magazine didn’t headline it as such, in my mind it always bore a title which I thought really captured the nuances: “Don Blankenship is an evil bastard.”
My favorite Blankenship story is the one where he was caught canoodling in Monaco with a West Virginia Supreme Court justice and some, er, younger female companions … while Massey had a case before the court. And then Massey won! Later, when the canoodling became public, the court agreed to rehear the case. Then the canoodling judge agreed to recuse himself from the case (he later lost his re-election bid). Then another judge tried to get a third judge to recuse himself over ties to Blankenship (as in $3.5 million of campaign support), but then Blankenship bullied that judge off the case. The one who took $3.5 million from Blankenship refused to leave.
Then … wait for it … the court found Massey innocent again. Shortly thereafter, in a Massey parking lot, Blankenship threatened an ABC camera man, saying, “If you’re going to start taking pictures of me, you’re liable to get shot.” I mean right?
(The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled, based on an appeal from Massey’s West Virginia case, that judges have to recuse themselves from cases in which participants are large campaign contributors. Now they’ll never be able to try Blankenship in West Virginia!)
More recently Blankenship’s megalomania has driven him to become a kind of spokesman for climate skepticism and anti-regulatory ideology. He even took the ill-advised step of publicly debating Robert F. Kennedy Jr., which was like watching the 1988 Tyson-Spinks fight, but for an hour.
And now, only four years after a mine disaster for which Massey pled guilty to 10 criminal charges, only two years after a catastrophic Massey coal-ash spill, Blankenship’s company has allowed more miners to die, through what appears to be gross negligence. Sounds like Appalachians are sick of it:
As the families of the miners waited on Tuesday, frustrations grew. State and mine officials were taking a long time to confirm the names of the dead, many of the miners said. Families also voiced frustration that they had learned about the disaster from news reports rather than from Massey officials.
Some of these tensions boiled over around 2 a.m. Tuesday when Mr. Blankenship arrived at the mine to announce the death toll to families who were gathered at the site. Escorted by at least a dozen state and other police officers, according to several witnesses, Mr. Blankenship prepared to address the crowd, but people yelled at him for caring more about profits than miners’ lives.
After another Massey official informed the crowd of the new death toll, one miner threw a chair. A father and son stormed off screaming that they were quitting mining work. And several people yelled at Mr. Blankenship that he was to blame before he was escorted from the scene.
Even most banks won’t touch Massey any more. Outside of West Virginia the company’s a pariah. But inside the state, they still dance to Blankenship’s tune, even as his lawlessness leaves more and more grieving families in its wake.
Here’s some recent Blankenship coverage:
- From Bloomberg: “Massey’s Blankenship Fought Regulators, Town, Maid” (the maid story is classic)
- From The Washington Post: “Massey Energy has litany of critics, violations“
- Unsurprisingly, unions hate Blankenship: “AFL-CIO rips company that owns site of deadly mine blast“
- Mayor of Charleston, W.Va., says Blankenship is widely disliked within the coal industry
- Blankenship was one of Rolling Stone’s “Climate Killers“
- Even die-hard coal supporter Rep. Nick Rahall is chastising Blankenship
- Naturally the fact that decent people loathe Blankenship means that right-wingers like Rush Limbaugh and Chris Stirewalt love him
- Here’s some Blankenship bashing from back when he was sponsoring and speaking at teabag rallies
UPDATE: After I wrote this post, I got a handy Blankenship Bashing Guide from American Progress. Enjoy:
Despite A Recent Glowing Profile Of Don Blankenship In The Washington Post, Blankenship Puts Profits Before Safety – Even At His Employees Expense.
Retired Mineworker: Massey Coal CEO Is “Always Calculating Odds” Of Turning A Profit. In an interview conducted by the New York Times, a retired mineworker that is familiar with Massey Coal CEO, Don Blankenship “said Mr. Blankenship was always calculating odds — the chances of turning a corner safely at a certain speed, for example. ‘He was always a risky type person,’ he said. “He lived his life by the odds. He felt if the odds were in his favor, he wasn’t taking a risk.'” [New York Times, 4/8/10]
Attorney That Represented Families Of Dead Mineworkers: Massey Coal CEO Is “A Numbers-Cruncher To The End.” “Bruce Stanley, the Pittsburgh attorney who represented the families of the dead Aracoma miners” said “He’s a numbers-cruncher to the end.” [Charleston Journal Gazette, 4/8/10]
Massey Coal CEO: “Capitalism … Is Survival Of The Most Productive.” In a 2006 Moyers On America episode aired on PBS, Massey Coal CEO, Don Blankenship said “Unions, communities, people, everybody’s going to have to learn to accept that in the United States you have a capitalist society, and that capitalism, from a business viewpoint is survival of the most productive.” [PBS, 2006]
Massey Coal CEO: “We don’t pay much attention to the violation count.” In a 2003 Forbes profile of Massey Coal’s safety and environmental violations, Massey Coal CEO Don Blankenship said “We don’t pay much attention to the violation count.” [Forbes, 5/26/03]
1,342 Safety Violations: Since 2005, The Site Of The Massey Coal Mine Explosion That Killed 25 Mine Workers Was Cited For 1,342 Safety Violations. “The Upper Big Branch coal mine, the site of Monday’s explosion, has been cited 1,342 times for safety violations since the beginning of 2005.” About a third of the violations – 458 were cited just last year – “including 50 that federal regulators said were ‘unwarrantable failures to comply.'” [Washington Post, 4/7/10; Charleston Journal Gazette, 4/8/10]
86 Mine-Ventilation Problems: Eighty-Six Of Massey Coal’s Upper Big Branch Coal Mine Citations Were Related To Mine-Ventilation Problems. “Eighty-six of the citations have been for failing to follow a mine-ventilation plan to control methane and coal dust. Twelve of those citations came last month.” [Washington Post, 4/7/10]
1 Memo Instructing Profits Before Safety: Massey Coal CEO Penned A Memo Explaining That “Coal Pays The Bills.” Massey’s “commitment to safety came under scrutiny in 2005 after Mr. Blankenship sent a memorandum to his deep mine superintendents. ‘If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal (i.e., build overcasts, do construction jobs, or whatever), you need to ignore them and run coal,’ said the memo, a copy of which was obtained from Bruce E. Stanley, a lawyer who represented the widows of the victims of the Aracoma mine fire. ‘This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that coal pays the bills.'” [New York Times, 4/7/10]
2 Massey Coal Mineworkers Die: Massey Coal Falsified Safety Records And Was Convicted Of Criminal Charges For Safety Violations Resulting In The Death Of Two Mineworkers. “Two Massey subsidiaries have been convicted on criminal charges, one for falsifying safety records and the other related to the 2006 fire at Massey’s Aracoma mine in Logan County, W.Va., that killed two miners. The fines in that case totaled $4.2 million, including $2.5 million for the criminal charges.” [Charleston Journal Gazette, 4/8/10]
2 Deaths = “Statistically Insignificant”: Massey CEO Called Deaths “Statistically Insignificant.” “Just weeks after the deaths of miners in several accidents, Massey Coal CEO Don Blankenship spoke to the Berkeley County Republican Club. According to the Herald-Mail in Hagerstown, Maryland, ‘Blankenship also reportedly said that the fire, at Aracoma Coal’s Alma No. 1 Mine [a Massey subsidiary], and the January 2 explosion at International Coal Group’s Sago Mine … were rare events and statistically insignificant.’ Republican Del. Bill Hamilton (R-Upshur) said, ‘Shame on you Don Blankenship.'” [Logan Banner, 9/1/06]
1 Federal Mine Inspector Told To “Back Off”: A Federal Mine Inspector Who Wanted To Shut Down A Massey Coal Mine Was Told To “Back Off.” “Days before fire broke out in the Aracoma mine – owned by Massey Coal – a federal mine inspector tried to close down that section of the mine, but ‘was told by his superior to back off and let them run coal, that there was too much demand for coal.’ Massey failed to notify authorities of the fire until two hours after the disaster.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/23/06]
37 Challenges To “Serious Safety Violations”: In 2009 – After Comprehensive Federal Safety Practices Were Ratified – Massey Coal Challenged 37 Of The 50 Issued Citations Pertaining To “Serious Safety Violations.” Following the passage of comprehensive federal regulations overhauling mine-safety regulations in 2006, “Massey appealed at least 37 of the 50 citations for serious safety violations that it received” in 2009. [New York Times, 4/7/10]
2/3’s Of Mine-Safety Citations Are Challenged By Big Coal: Following The Implementation Of Comprehensive Federal Mine-Safety Regulations, Coal Companies Increased Legal Challenges Of Safety Citations By One Third. “In 2005, before increased penalties took effect, mine operators appealed one in three fines, and the commission that reviewed the cases carried a backlog of about 2,100 cases. Now, Miller said, mine operators contest two-thirds of all fines, with some of the largest mine owners – including Massey Energy — challenging the vast majority of the citations they receive.” [ABC News, 4/7/10]
$129.2 Million In Blankenship’s Pocket: Since 1999, Massey Coal’s CEO Has Earned At Least $129.2 Million In Salary, Bonuses, And Perks. In 2008, Massey Coal CEO, Don Blankenship “received compensation valued at $19.7 million.” In 2007, Blankenship earned at least “$23.7 million in salary, bonus, option and other compensation.” In 2006, “Blankenship made nearly $27 million.” In 2005, Blankenship “earned more than $12.9 million in annual compensation payments, including his base salary, bonuses and other compensation.” According to “Third Point LLC, a hedge fund based in New York City, estimated Blankenship’s compensation was “$33.7 million, more than four times the average compensation of $8.1 million for the competitors’ CEOs.” In 2004, Blankenship earned $13.9 million in base compensation and “additional payments from company stocks.” In 2003, Blankenship “earned more than $6 million” that the Charleston Journal Gazette explained in 2004 was “worth 56 percent more than his 2002 package.” In 2002, Blankenship earned $3.9 million in bonuses, compensation and stock options. In 2001, Blankenship “earned $ 4.4 million in salary and bonuses.” In 2000, “Blankenship earned $16 million … in salary, bonuses, house allowances and stock awards.” In 1999, Blankenship “made $1.45 million in salary and bonuses … in addition to at least $266,177 in stocks.” [New York Times, 2/15/09; Associated Press, 4/14/09; 4/4/06; Charleston Journal Gazette,4/30/07; 5/11/06; 2/27/05; 10/19/04; 8/8/04; 6/22/03; 4/20/01; 2/15/00]
$3 Million To Buy A WV Supreme Court Seat: Massey Coal CEO Spent $3 Million On “Venomous” Ads In A WV State Supreme Court Justice Election. In 2004, Massey Coal CEO, Don Blankenship “spent $3 million on tough advertisements attacking a justice of the State Supreme Court who was seeking re-election. Some of the advertisements said the justice had agreed to free a sex offender.” The USA Today slammed Blankenship’s campaign and called the ads “venomous.” [New York Times, 2/15/09; USA Today, 4/7/10]
$2.4 Billion = $20 Million: Massey Coal Settled $2.4 Billion In Environmental And Safety Violations For $20 Million. In May 2007 the EPA filed suit for $2.4 billion against Massey Coal for violating “Clean Water Act more than 4,500 times from the beginning of 2000 to the end of 2006″ in West Virginia and Kentucky, including the Martin County spill. In January 2008 Massey agreed to pay $20 million to settle the case. [Lexington Herald-Leader, 1/18/08]