Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Don Blankenship: Teabagger, Racist, Greedy, Sociopathic... Republican

So the big news the past couple days is the big mine explosion in West Virginia.

This is by no means the first time that a mine belonging to the Massey Corporation has caused the deaths of workers. The CEO of the corporation, Don Blankenship, has said in an interview that despite the multitude of safety violations, there was nothing wrong with how the mine was run:

I mean violations are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process. You have inspections every day and it’s hard to differentiate sometimes between head count or number counts of violations and the seriousness or type of it.

[Upper Big Branch] was a mine that had violations. I think the fact that MSHA and the state and our firebosses and the best engineers you can find were all in and order this mine and all belive it was safe … speaks for itself.

Any suspicion that the mine was improperly operated or illegally operated or anything like that would be unfounded. None of these groups would have allowed this mine to operate had it been unsafe.

Yes, this nitwit does not realize- or will not admit- that safety regulation violations are a definitive sign that the mine IS unsafe.

Of course, you'll notice that he mentiones the Mine Safety and Health Authority, the state government, and his employed engineers... but he doesn't mention union safety crews or inspectors. That's because, over the past decade, he's purged the United Mine Workers of America from his corporation's mines.

The combative head of the nation's sixth-biggest coal company has benefited greatly by facing down the union. But it's not his only enemy. Environmental regulators, who he says are in cahoots with the union, aren't particularly fond of him either. They say he runs some of the industry's dirtiest mines. Now Wall Street has joined the party. The cocky, independent streak that served him so well has led to bad decisions, such as hiring cheaper but inexperienced workers.

. . .

The 53-year-old made his name in 1985, when Massey insisted on separate negotiations for each of the company's mines. In protest the United Mine Workers of America struck at mines run by Blankenship. But after 15 months, with one worker shot to death, 91 others sent to the hospital, three of Blankenship's armored cars trashed and those 11 bullets fired into his office, the union caved in, agreeing to less featherbedding and less job security. Now Massey's liabilities for future retiree benefits and land reclamation equal $11 for each ton it ships annually; its three biggest rivals average $20 a ton.

. . .

The 53-year-old made his name in 1985, when Massey insisted on separate negotiations for each of the company's mines. In protest the United Mine Workers of America struck at mines run by Blankenship. But after 15 months, with one worker shot to death, 91 others sent to the hospital, three of Blankenship's armored cars trashed and those 11 bullets fired into his office, the union caved in, agreeing to less featherbedding and less job security. Now Massey's liabilities for future retiree benefits and land reclamation equal $11 for each ton it ships annually; its three biggest rivals average $20 a ton.

. . .

Blankenship, making a contrarian bet that the supply of low-sulfur coal will fall even faster than demand as more eastern miners fold up shop, has bought mines in West Virginia. Massey now has a third of Central Appalachia's proven and probable reserves. It mined 44 million tons last year, up from 13 million in 1990. "We're skating where the puck is going to be," says Blankenship.

. . .

n October 2000 the floor of a 72-acre wastewater reservoir built above an abandoned mine in Kentucky collapsed, sending black sludge through the mine and out into a tributary of the Big Sandy River. The sludge killed fish and plants for 36 miles downstream... Blankenship says the accident "could have happened to anyone" and partly blames faulty maps of the old mine . . . the reservoir had shown signs of leaking right before the accident and Massey failed to report that fact to regulators as required, according to the U.S. Mine Safety & Health Administration. The cleanup has cost $58 million so far.

. . .

The state's Surface Mine Board, which includes the vice chairman of the state lobbying group for the coal industry, called Massey's actions at Madison "absolutely the worst behavior by any company that any member of this board has ever seen over the decades that this board has been in existence."

Over the two years through 2001 Massey was cited by West Virginia officials for violating regulations 501 times. Its three biggest rivals, mining twice as much coal in the state as Massey, were cited a collective 175 times. Blankenship says Massey is unfairly targeted by regulators. "We don't pay much attention to the violation count," he says.

. . .

In the winter of 2000-01 electricity demand rose and the spot price for Central Appalachian coal jumped from $24 a ton to $48 a ton. Mining companies began digging furiously, hiring more workers and pushing up wages. Blankenship refused to match the increases. Miners quit in droves. The timing was awful. Blankenship had planned to increase Massey coal production for the coming year from 44 million tons to 56 million tons and so needed to add staff. He had to turn to people with little experience. By the end of 2001 half of his 5,000-person staff were new hires.

The company's cost of sales, which includes miner's wages, jumped 11% in 2001 for each ton of coal sold. And, despite the surge in coal prices, Massey's operating margin fell a third, to 13%, that year. Blankenship says his decision to let the old workers go will be vindicated as savings from lower wages pile up.

And the above is a Forbes article from 2003- in other words, that was his closest FRIENDS writing about him. His allies in big business were, at the time, sharply critical of his short-sighted policies combined with his monopolistic desires- as you see above, his corporation controls a third of all coal in Appalachia, and holds near total dominion over West Virginia, where coal is the only industry.

Here's what his ENEMIES say about him, and it's based on more recent material:

Here's something else about Don Blankenship and Massey Energy Company: Blankenship spent over $1 million dollars along with other US Chamber buddies like Verizon to sponsor last year's Labor Day Tea Party, also known as the "Friends of America Rally."

. . .

Massey ranks among the nation’s top five coal producers and is among the industry’s most profitable. It has a spotty safety record.

The federal mine safety administration fined Massey a then-record $1.5 million for 25 violations that inspectors concluded contributed to the deaths of two miners trapped in a fire in January 2006. The company later settled a lawsuit naming it, several subsidiaries and Chief Executive Don Blankenship as defendants. Aracoma Coal Co. later paid $2.5 million in fines after the company pleaded guilty to 10 criminal charges in the fire.

. . .

The Manville Trust filed the case in July 2007 against company Chairman, CEO, and President Don Blankenship and certain other current and former officers and directors. The plaintiff sought several corporate governance reforms, specifically regarding environmental compliance and worker safety. Citing several incidents involving Massey Energy, including a major federal water pollution lawsuit, penalties for two coal miners' tragic deaths and other safety and environmental compliance problems, the lawsuit claimed that a "conscious failure" by the defendants to ensure compliance with federal and state regulations and other legal obligations posed a "substantial threat of monetary liability for violations."

. . .

Blankenship will spend millions to keep the Massey Energy's workforce non-union, is perfectly happy to discriminate against union workers even if it means being sued and losing, and might hate unions as much as he hates 'greeniacs'.

This is the same mine where the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently ruled that Spartan Mining illegally discriminated against 82 UMWA members by refusing to hire them because of their union membership status.

“This settlement highlights yet again the treacherous and backhanded manner Massey treated the miners who had worked at the Cannelton mine for decades,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “While it was discriminating against these experienced miners because of their age or union status, the company was at the same time publicly crying about the lack of experienced miners in the coalfields.

“But it wasn’t that Massey couldn’t find experienced miners,” Roberts said. “They were there all along and wanted to work. It was that the company would rather break the law than allow its employees to have a strong voice at work and the tremendous benefits of a union contract.

Penny-wise, pound-foolish. An investment in experienced workers trained in state-of-the art safety measures combined with OSHA compliance and mine safety measures might have saved at least 25, and possibly 29 lives.

Instead Don Blankenship spent that money and more on a US Chamber of Commerce corporate-sponsored tea party to convince good, hard-working honest people to work against their best interests.

Scared yet? That's only the beginning:

On April 3, 2008, ABC News reported that Blankenship attacked an ABC News photographer at a Massey facility near Belfry, Kentucky . . . "If you're going to start taking pictures of me, you're liable to get shot," Blankenship stated in the video.

. . .

A former employee of Blankenship, Deborah May, has filed a lawsuit claiming that stress from personal abuse forced her to quit her job as Blankenship's personal maid in November, 2005. The lawsuit claims that a wrong breakfast order from McDonald's, misplaced ice cream in the freezer and an improperly hung jacket in the closet caused difficulties with Blankenship.

. . .

He referred to the support of President Jimmy Carter for energy conservation in the 1970s to communism: "Buy a smaller car? Conserve? I have spent quite a bit of time in Russia and China, and that's the first stage."

In a letter to the editor of the Charleston (WV) Gazette dated Oct. 30, 2009 Blankenship denied that global warming exists, and states: "Why should we trust a report by the United Nations? The United Nations includes countries like Venezuela, North Korea and Iran."

In 2005, Blankenship wrote a memo to employees telling them that maximizing coal production was more important than spending time constructing things like support beams or ventilation shafts: "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."

So here we have a man who has no value whatever for the lives of other people, who believes that any form of regulation or conservation is Communist tyranny, who attacks and abuses other people and routinely gets away with it...

...oh, and did I mention he's one of the biggest Republican donors in four states, to the point that he's de facto boss of the Republican machine in West Virginia?

Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey Energy — which owns the Whitesville mine — is a looming figure in West Virginia politics. Indeed, it's difficult to think of a figure like him in any other state in the current century. He financed a takeover of the state Supreme Court that wound up setting U.S. Supreme Court precedent around politics and the judiciary, and then tried to take over the Legislature.

And look down in the comments:

1) Massey Energy is based in Richmond; 2) Massey's Knox Creek site in Tazewell County "was one of ten sites in the country to be cited for major health and safety violations last October"; 3) our fine Attorney General is not only NOT cracking down on Massey, he "is actually working with Massey Energy on his lawsuit against the EPA;" and 4) Massey hearts Virginia Republicans, having donated $61,000 to Virginia Republicans in 2009 ("and $0 to the Dems"), not to mention $441,463 to Virginia Republicans since 1997 (just $8,250 to Democrats), including $40,000 to Bob McDonnell for Governor and $10,000 to Ken Cuccinelli for Attorney General.

And what did Blankenship get for his money? An attorney general who ordered Virginia universities to discriminate against gays and lesbians, and a governor who just declared April to be Confederate History Month... and then left out slavery altogether from his proclamation because:

"there were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia."

Yeah... because the single biggest reason the secessionists themselves cited for forming the Confederacy isn't significant enough to be part of history.

So... Don apparently got what he paid for there.

And how did this nutbar not only survive, but prosper, in the decade he's been CEO of Massey? One word: politics.

Blankenship was abetted by former employees placed at the highest levels of the federal mine safety system. Massey COO Stanley Suboleski was named a commissioner of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission in 2003 and was nominated in December 2007 to run the Energy Department’s Office of Fossil Energy. Suboleski is now back on the Massey board. After being rejected twice by the Senate, one-time Massey executive Dick Stickler was put in charge of the MSHA in a recess appointment in October 2006. In the 1990s, Stickler oversaw Massey subsidiary Performance Coal, the operator of the deadly Upper Big Branch Mine, after managing Beth Energy mines, which “incurred injury rates double the national average.” Bush named Stickler acting secretary when the recess appointment expired in January 2008.

. . .

U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, wife of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), oversaw the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Chao “put on the brakes” on the MSHA investigation into the spill by placing a McConnell staffer in charge. In 2002 a $5,600 fine was levied. That September Massey gave $100,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, chaired by McConnell.

. . .

In May 2007 the EPA filed suit for $2.4 billion against Massey 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.

In short language: Blankenship is one of many crazy, self-obsessed CEOs who have bought off the government. We can only wait and hope that this fresh tragedy actually goads a Democratic federal government into putting some teeth into the regulations and nailing Blankenship's hide to the proverbial war.

But, since the Democratic Party is the Party of Caving In to Evil, I'm not holding my breath. No doubt they have More Important Issues to Focus On. No doubt they Don't Want to Alienate Republicans in Congress. No doubt they wish to Seek Bipartisanship.

If the Democrats don't act now, and act definitively, it will be merely another example of why we desperately need some other party besides the Big Two- one irredeemably evil, the other useless.

1 comment:

theo said...

Thanks for assembling all that info about that sociopath. Excellent work.