Category Archives: Upper Big Branch Mine
From The Progress Report;
In Coal We Don’t Trust
On April 5, an explosion of methane gas ripped through the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, eventually killing 29 of the 31 miners at the site. The tragedy was the worst mining disaster in decades and shed light on the unsafe working conditions in mines run by Massey Energy and other industry leaders. Yet more than four months later, federal officials say they still don’t know the cause of the explosion, although they reject a theory “put forward by Massey, that a huge crack in the floor of the mine may have allowed an influx of the explosive gas methane.” Regulators from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the state of West Virginia have so far interviewed 166 people in their investigation and are now going to subpoena Massey executives, including CEO Don Blankenship. Despite this devastating incident, Blankenship and other coal barons continue to put profits over public safety, polluting the political environment by throwing large sums of money at candidates who will help them weaken regulations.
PROFITS OVER PEOPLE: MSHA has cited Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine for more than 3,000 violations, with 638 since 2009. The fines assessed against the mine amount to $2.2 million; at the time of the April explosion, Massey had paid just $791,327. This week, MSHA issued new sanctions on the Upper Big Branch mine, saying “officials there failed to report five cave-ins and 20 lost-time work accidents in the months before a fatal blast killed 29 men.” Since April, Blankenship has been receiving some long-overdue scrutiny for his record of putting coal profits over fundamental safety and health concerns. Blankenship, a right-wing activist millionaire who sits on the boards of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Mining Association, used his company’s ties to the industry-dominated Bush administration to paper over Massey’s egregious environmental and health violations. At a Labor Day rally last year, Blankenship called safety regulators “as silly as global warming.” Even after the Upper Big Branch disaster, Massey officials prevented miners from attending funerals of the 29 victims and even “required a worker to go on shift even though the fate of a relative — one of the victims of the April 5 disaster — remained unknown at the time.” Last month, five former employees sued a Massey subsidiary saying that it “forced them to work off the clock to avoid paying overtime.” Yesterday, the Labor Department “filed for full reinstatement” of a miner who was fired by Massey after blowing the whistle on the unsafe practices at Massey mines. The miner is a witness in the federal criminal investigation into the Upper Big Branch explosion.
HURTING THE BOTTOM LINE: Massey is also starting to take a hit financially. The Upper Big Branch Mine is unlikely to reopen this year, and the explosion contributed “to a second-quarter loss of $88.7 million, or 88 cents per share, in the period.” Yesterday, the Rainforest Action Network announced that major Wall Street banks are backing away from companies that practice destructive mountain top removal mining. The organization reports, “Bank of America, which was one of the ‘syndication agents’ on a $175 million revolver loan to Massey in March 2008, is no longer on the deal or any others with the company. JPMorgan, similarly, underwrote $180 million in debt securities in 2008 to Massey and was also the lead manager on a $233 million share deal (joint with UBS) that same year. JPMorgan no longer has any financial ties to the company.” Reducing the power of the coal industry is actually good news for West Virginia, the heart of the industry, despite what many politicians state. Despite $118 million in coal-mining annual income, West Virginia has the nation’s lowest median household income, worst educational services, worst social assistance, and highest percentage of its population with disabilities. Nearly a quarter of West Virginia children are in poverty. A West Virginia University study found that the “human cost of the Appalachian coal mining economy outweighs its economic benefits.” Although the coal industry generates more than “$8 billion a year in economic benefits for the Appalachian region,” the value of the premature deaths due to the mining industry are valued at a minimum of $42 billion.
POLITICAL INFLUENCE: Rep. George Miller (D-CA), along with co-sponsors Reps. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) and Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), has introduced legislation to improve mine safety by hiking financial penalties for mine-safety violations. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that it would generate “$200 million in increased revenues during the next decade.” Naturally, Blankenship is against the bill. “We need to let businesses function as businesses,” he said last week at the National Press Club. “Corporate business is what built America, in my opinion, and we need to let it thrive by, in a sense, leaving it alone.” Blankenship and other coal barons are now doing all they can to make sure that there won’t be more regulations, including by donating large sums of money to industry-friendly candidates who will look the other way at their misbehavior. Blankenship and other Massey employees have donated thousands of dollars to West Virginia congressional candidates Elliott “Spike” Maynard and David McKinley. Maynard and Blankenship are especially tight. In 2006, when Maynard was chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and Massey had millions of dollars of cases pending before the court, Maynard and Blankenship went on an expensive vacation in the French Riviera together. Later that year, Maynard voted with the majority in favor of Massey. McKinley has hired Blankenship’s old “chief political consultant” to help his campaign. The Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky also reports that several coal executives, including Blankenship, are pooling their money to take advantage of the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision loosening corporate campaign finance laws by forming a 527 group to help elect coal-friendly Republicans. Why a 527? Because according to the IRS, they can hide their activities until “next year, long after the Nov. 2 election.” Coal executives are even planning to influence the minds of West Virginia’s future leaders at a younger age, by teaching schoolchildren about the wonders of coal.
Teaching children about the wonders of coal. You fuckers are so full of shit your eyes better be brown.
Oh and George Miller , Democrat, rocks! Congress needs to support and pass his legislation. Any bets on which way that bill will go?