Monday, December 12, 2011

Clean Coal, Dirty Hands

The news came this week that the disgraced head man at Massey Coal, Don Blankenship, is a top executive of a recently chartered Kentucky coal company. Most Kentuckians know him from running the disastrous Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, where 29 miners died in what a recent report called a "preventable" event.

Every probe so far, public or private, has shown that this mine, and Massey Coal in general, under his leadership, were accidents waiting to happen; and they operated in a culture of ignoring safety regulations, and much, much more. Blankenship later resigned, received an $86 million dollar "golden parachute", while the families of the dead miners got a pittance, Massey went out of business, was bought by Arch Coal--which has pledged to run things better.

That's what most Kentuckians know about this man. Dig deeper, Google, and you will find that a dozen years ago Mr. Blankenship spent three million dollars to get his candidate elected to the W. Va. Supreme Court. His guy won. When a major lawsuit involving Massey Coal (and Blankenship), which had been pending, finally came before the court, his man refused to recuse himself, and voted in favor of Massey. (Judges can not be forced to recuse themselves for a conflict of interest, something our judicial code probably needs to address.)

Even in the rough-and-tumble politics of the Mountain State this rubbed people the wrong way and a case went to the U.S. Supreme Court which said, mirabile dictu, this was a classic case and the bought judge could not vote because of his conflict of interest.

Somewhere I hear the voice of a famous Boston lawyer saying, "Have you no shame, no sense of decency?" The short answer is no.

Be it noted, neither Mr. Blankenship nor Massey Coal have yet been charged with any state or federal crimes. (One mine foreman has been found guilty.) But a lot of us who follow coal believe it is just a matter of time until such charges are filed.

Now Mr, Blankenship wants back into coal mining. His new firm has not yet applied for a mining permit. If it does it should be rejected, on any grounds legal and possible; and maybe then some. I hope the Kentucky Coal Association, which has been running all those ads about the importance of coal (true), and that coal can be made "clean" (I believe it can; I just want to see some substantial efforts here.) will urge the state not to issue such a permit. It would be a public relations disaster for Kentucky coal to have him involved in any of our mines; and a distinct possibility, given his record, of a real "disaster" down the pike.

If no grounds can be found, if moral turpitude isn't one or past performance (surely to goodness that's admissible), I hope the state will keep stalling until charges are filed in the West Virginia tragedy--and that ought to do it.

There should be no place for this man, or a firm like Massey, in the coal industry in Kentucky,or anywhere else.

I'm just sayin'...

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