(12/22/2002)
Opinion And Comment: Bob Weaver

Massey Energy is still "storming heaven," running ads designed to polish the company's tarnished image, a problem that seems to get worse by the month. Two of its holdings admitted to criminal pollution violations this week and agreed to pay $400,000 in fines, the maximum allowed by law.

The company's list of violations would fill an entire newspaper, not considering coverage that has been given to some of the largest spills ever recorded.

Massey might consider taking the money it's paying to air the PR ads and cleaning up its environmental record.

Massey CEO Don Blankenship continues to receive huge bonuses on top of his $881,000 base salary, and his outlandish stands taken against West Virginia, including threatening to leave the state.

The company's profit-loss statement does not look good.

The more current Massey record as a corporate neighbor is almost as atrocious as the historical record coal story of the 20th century that bears witness to the misuse of power over miners and the state's most valuable resource.

In a Boone County court this week, it was revealed during the last five years, about 215,000 truckloads of coal had been hauled in and out of Massey Energy's coal processing plant at Sylvester.

Only 185 of those trucks complied with state road weight limits.

The statement was from testimony given by an expert witness for Sylvester residents, the tiny town suing Massey and its subsidiary, Elk Run Coal Co., over coal dust pollution from the plant.

More than 150 residents allege that dust from the operation rains down on their community, covering their homes and cars.

Testimony said that the plant operates under a Department of Environmental Protection permit that actually assumes coal trucks will be overweight.

Jurors began hearing testimony in the case this past week. Boone Circuit Judge E. Lee Schlaegel is presiding over the trial, expected to last about two months.

Elk Run has denied doing anything wrong, and said it has tried to work with residents to fix any alleged dust problems.

. Massey moved their operation from 1,400 feet away from town to within 630 feet of the community.

A witness said "No prudent person should put a plant this size adjacent to a town," but Massey does as Massey wants, they said, and then blames "tree huggers" for complaining.

The state Supreme Court refused to let residents of Sylvester use the state's records of Massey Energy subsidiary's environmental violations during a coal dust pollution trial.

Justice Warren McGraw wanted to let the Sylvester residents use the citations in their lawsuit, which claims the coal company violated state laws by allowing coal dust to fall onto their town.

He said the environmental laws are created to protect the state's citizens, and refusing to let them use notices of violations in trial "would place an onerous, undue and expensive burden" on those trying to defend themselves.

Judge Schlaegel refused to let the residents use the citations as evidence because he considered them similar to traffic tickets, "and I don't think paying fines are an admission."


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