"SHAME ON YOU DON BLANKENSHIP" - CEO Said Miners Have Responsibility For Own Safety

(03/13/2006)

COMPILED FROM RECENT NEWS ACCOUNTS

By Bob Weaver

Since the deaths of sixteen WV coal miners, the power of coal corporations and their control of government agencies continues to raise questions about miner safety and environmental problems that seem to be swept under the rug.

WV Governor Joe Manchin appears to have thrown caution to the wind to try and correct some of the long-time problems.

Now, federal records show Massey's Logan County mine where two men died as the result of a January belt line fire has been cited for more than 100 new safety violations.

The Massey mine joins the Sago mine in frequent citations for safety violations, resulting in the deaths of WV coal miners.

The citations come during initial investigations which reveal a long-time pattern of coal companies either ignoring violations, having fines reduced or not paying them at all.

The US Mine Safety and Health Administration issued 107 citations for Aracoma Coal's Alma Number One Mine, discovered over the past month while they were investigating the accident.

Seventy-seven of the citations for the Massey operation were deemed "significant and substantial."

In five instances, MSHA alleged an "unwarrantable failure" by Massey to comply with federal mine safety rules.

Penalties have yet to be issued.

Among the alleged violations, accumulations of combustible materials, inadequate fire detection equipment, ventilation problems, violations of roof control standards, training requirements, electrical equipment guidelines and mine escape way rules.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders seem less enchanted with Massey CEO Don Blankenship.

"Shame on you, Don Blankenship," said Republican lawmaker Bill Hamilton of Upshur County, calling the Massey CEO to task for his comments at a Berkley County Republican fundraiser on February 18th.

The dressing-down against the Massey Energy chief was made by Hamilton in a floor speech in the House of Delegates Chamber.

In his address, Blankenship said miners carry the burden of looking after their own safety.

He also reportedly told the gathering that the fire at Aracoma Coal's Alma Number One Mine, and the explosion at International Coal Group's Sago Mine were rare events and statistically insignificant.

Thirteen miners were trapped after the Sago explosion. Only one survived. Other miners died in Massey-owned mines.

The Berkeley speech could be one sign of Blankenship's efforts to reassert himself politically after being quiet during the recent spate of mining deaths.

Hamilton's reaction, meanwhile, suggests Blankenship may have lost some of his political luster with his Republican base.

After Blankenship wrote a memo telling supervisors that "coal pays the bills," it is drawing fire from coal miners.

In the October memo, the CEO said that running coal is the top priority in the mines.

Blankenship's memos touched off a firestorm among miners.

Charleston Gazette's award-winning reporter Ken Ward Jr. reports that the state Department of Environmental Protection is trying to settle hundreds of Massey Energy pollution violations that date back more than seven years.

Ward received the information under the Freedom of Information Act.

Ward says Massey would pay a fraction of the millions of dollars in fines that could have been sought under state and federal water pollution laws.

When DEP announced the deal Jan. 5, agency Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer issued a one-paragraph public notice.

The state's DEP said it was proposing to settle five lawsuits against four Massey subsidiaries, but the proposed settlement reveals that the deal would also end 14 DEP enforcement cases that sought the most serious penalties allowed under state mining law — permit suspensions that would halt coal production.

One case dated back to the Underwood administration, involving more than 70 violations of state strip mining rules.

The Gazette's reporter Ken Ward just received a prestigious award for his reporting on Massey's Marshfork coal silo next to a Raleigh County elementary school.


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