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Despite Mining Disaster, Report Says Coal Giant Massey ‘Has Not Changed’ and Execs Stay on

Buried within the damning report released yesterday on the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster that killed 29 workers last year were some interesting details about what could lie ahead for Massey Energy, its executives, and the safety of its operations.

The report, which was commissioned by West Virginia’s former governor, noted that 18 current and former executives invoked their Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination and refused to cooperate with investigators. Nonetheless, investigators concluded that the preventable disaster was a result of a “total and catastrophic systemic failure” by Massey Energy.

“It is only in the context of a culture bent on production at the expense of safety that these obvious deviations from decades of known safety practices make sense,” the report said. It also noted that the company’s practices haven’t improved much—if at all—since the disaster occurred.

“More than a year after 29 men died in the Upper Big Branch mine, there is strong evidence that Massey has not changed the manner in which it operates its mines,” the report said.

Investigators said the coal giant had “used the leverage of jobs it provided to attempt to control West Virginia’s political system,” casting inspectors, regulators, and even politicians and community residents as enemies. According to the report, the company’s former CEO, Don Blankenship instilled fear in local politicians by spending “vast amounts of money to influence elections.”

As we have noted, Blankenship received $2 million when he retired at the end of last year, and is scheduled to receive another $10 million in July. He’s expected to stay on as a consultant.

Other top executives are faring just fine too, it seems. Shortly after Blankenship’s retirement, another company, Alpha Natural Resources, announced an agreement to buy Massey Energy, but Massey executives still scored some key management roles.

Notably, Massey’s Chief Operating Officer, Chris Adkins, will oversee Alpha’s main safety program along with another Alpha executive. According to the report, “Adkins’ history makes him a questionable choice to run a safety program. One need look no further than [Upper Big Branch],” investigators said.

Massey Energy is a company willing to kill people to increase it’s profit margin, and it’s not changing. 29 human being died needlessly because orders came down from the top to disable the methane sensors in order to save money. A union could have helped enforce the safety regulations: according to United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, “if these miners were members of a union, they would have been able to refuse unsafe work…and would not have been subjected to that kind of atrocious conditions”.

But remember, in the eyes of Massey ex-CEO (now a consultant), Union Busting is invaluable to the bottom line!

Filed under Massey Don Blankenship Coal Mining Unions Labor