Most people who have seen videos or read accounts of Don Blankenship, the man who runs the owner of the failed Upper Big Branch mine, Massey Energy Co., know him to be a figure who can make one angry. Blankenship has mocked expanded mine regulation and the reality of climate change, but a reckoning may be soon coming. The U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of West Virginia announced today that they are looking into possible criminal conduct around the mine's collapse.Next week, Blankenship is set to testify before a Senate panel looking into the accident. The hearing will be at 2PM EST on May 20 in room 106 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Blankenship will be flanked by UMWA President Cecil Roberts.
Massey's terrible safety record will surely come up. Between June 3, 2006, and April 5, 2010, the day of the explosion, Massey received 500 citations for infractions ranging from negligence to reckless disregard for safety standards.
On Friday, U.S. Attorney Chuck Miller in Charleston, W.Va., wrote to lawyers for the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration saying that his office is currently conducting an investigation at Massey's Upper Big Branch mine. In the letter, Mr. Miller asks that MSHA suspend any civil litigation related to the Upper Big Branch mine until the criminal investigation is completed.
Mr. Miller's letter states that part of the criminal investigation involves whether "directors, officers and agents" of Massey subsidiary Performance Coal "engaged in willful criminal activity at UBB." The letter indicates that the probe is looking at alleged violations of federal mine safety law at the mine from 2007 to 2010.
Here's a video of Blankenship deriding regulation.
More on Blankenship:
Don Blankenship: Mine Safety Regulators "As Silly as Global Warming" (Video)
Massey Energy Shareholders: Fire Don Blankenship : TreeHugger