This week's indictment of former Massey EnergyCEO, Don Blankenship, was as much a political turning point for West Virginia as it was a moment of reckoning economically for the coal industry writ large. It marked the wane of one of America's last great robber barons and yet another ominous warning for the country's dirtiest and deadliest of fossil fuels.
The decision represented a political shot across the bow by a smart, dogged and politically ambitious US attorney, R. Booth Goodwin II. For several years now, Goodwin has systematically worked his way up Massey’s hierarchy, convicting not only low-level supervisors, but also executives higher and higher within the corporate hierarchy. Goodwin has based his prosecutions on conspiracy charges rather than on violations of specific health and safety regulations, which means he can reach further up into the corporate structure.
Goodwin's pursuit of Blankenship was politically daring — and, if the indictment is to be trusted — based on solid evidence. But it was also a welcome development for the state's democrats since for over a decade Blankenship had single-handedly dismantled the mine workers union and bank-rolled a resurgent GOP movement in the state, altering the make-up of the state Supreme Court and funneling funds to astro-turf 501c drives for pet issues like “tort reform”.
More than anything, though, the indictment was a small vindication for the families of the 29 men who died at the Upper Big Branch mine on April 5, 2010 in the worst explosion of the past 40 years. But the incident, a range of investigators concluded, was less an accident and more the outcome of deliberate wrongdoing by Massey.
Sierra Club pranksters have posted on Craig’s List an all-too-honest job description for anyone hoping to apply for the CEO job at Massey Energy to replace retiring CEO Don Blankenship. Think you’re qualified to fill the shoes of one of the worst polluters in America?
Massey Energy seeks a new Chief Executive Officer to carry on its important work destroying the environment andjeopardizingthe health and safety of its employees. This position will oversee all Massey Energy operations (but don’t worry - stringent or really any oversight is not a corporate priority).
-Ducking responsibility for grave accidents and enthusiastically (and with a straight face)shiftingthe blame to government agencies created to prevent such incidents.
-Denyingclimate change, hating the environment and hating anyone who might enjoy the environment.
A new study by three top environmental groups reveals another 39 coal ash threats in 21 states, bringing the total number of known coal ash threats to 137 in 34 states.
The report by the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, and the Sierra Club details the newly identified slurry ponds and impoundments filled with toxic coal ash that threaten drinking water supplies and public health at sites around the country.
Earlier this year the groups identified 31 coal ash disposal sites in 14 states, adding to the 67 sites already identified by the Environmental Protection Agency. The latest report brings the total number to 137 sites where coal ash threatens public health and water supplies.
The U.S.EPA is currently grappling with how to regulate the toxic coal ash threat, which is now checked only by individual state laws that have failed to adequately protect the public from this growing problem.
Massey Energy(NYSE: MEE), the 4th largest coal producer in the country is running political-style attacks in West Virginia claiming that “tree hugging extremists and self-serving politicians” are killing jobs, while the coal industry is “fighting hard for Appalachian jobs” and “what’s right.”
I am assuming that when Massey talks about fighting for Appalachian jobs they aren’t referring to the fact that earlier in 2009 they cut employee pay by 6% and then recently increased the performance bonus for Massey’s CEO, Don Blankenship, by $600,000.
And I think it’s also safe to assume that when Massey talks about fighting for “what’s right” they aren’t talking about the major environmental violations over the years culminating in a record $20 million settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA stated that Massey had violated its Clean Water Act permits “… more than 4,500 times between January 2000 and December 2006.”
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy.
There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.