Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has been indicted on conspiracy and fraud charges for his role in the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia that killed 29 workers.
According to a statement by US Attorney Booth Goodwin of the Southern District of West Virginia: “The indictment charges Blankenship with conspiracy to violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and securities fraud.” You can read the full indictment online.
Blankenship has long been a controversial figure. News of the indictment validates charges that have been made against him by environmentalists for years, not only over the poor safety and environmental record of Massey Energy but also his union busting tactics, his opposition to government regulations on extractive industries, and his outspoken belief that climate change does not exist.
Blankenship donated to just one federal candidate in this year's midterm elections: future Senate Environment Committee Chairman James Inhofe, who infamously called global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” (h/t Lee Fang).
The indictment against Blankenship alleges that he conspired to commit routine, willful violations of federal mine safety and health standards at the Upper Big Branch Mine prior to the explosion on April 5, 2010, and that he was part of a conspiracy to prevent federal mine safety officials from discovering the safety violations that led to the disaster by giving advanced warning of inspections to workers at the mine.
The indictment also alleges that after the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, Blankenship made false statements about Massey Energy's safety practices prior to the explosion to the Securities and Exchange Commission and in connection with the purchase and sale of Massey stock.
Massey Energy was bought by Alpha Natural Resources in 2011. Blankenship has since attempted to rebrand himself as a libertarian activist. And he doesn't take any responsibility for what happened on his watch at the Upper Big Branch Mine: “The actual UBB explosion was partially the result of the war on coal,” he told The Nation's Lee Fang, who adds that, “Over the last year, Blankenship has tried to clear his name over the UBB mine disaster. He created a short video and has told almost any reporter willing to listen that the disaster was a freak accident relating to the buildup of natural gas.”
Following the Upper Big Branch disaster, the US Chamber of Commerce and other political groups—like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, to which Massey Energy donated $100,000—defeated an attempt by Congress to tighten mine safety laws.
Update 11/14/14: Ken Ward Jr. of the West Virginia Gazette reports that Don Blankenship will make his first court appearance next week at an arraignment hearing scheduled for 1:00pm Thursday. Through his lawyers, Blankenship has said he intends to plead his innocence and fight the charges. US District Judge Irene C. Berger issued a gag order forbidding all parties in the litigation from making “any statement of any nature, in any form” regarding the facts and substance of the case. This could be a huge blow to Blankenship's defense strategy, given the fact that, as mentioned above, he relies heavily on his ability to spin the facts in the media.
Pursuant to the gag order, US Attorney Booth Goodwin has removed the full indictment from his website, but Ken Ward Jr. saved a copy of the indictment laying out all the charges against Blankenship, and we've switched the link above to point there.
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