You've heard that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Now we have Don Blankenship of Massey Energy, who tweeted right-wing drivel and flitted around the Tea Party circuit while his working men and women were exposed to unsafe conditions on the coal mines of West Virginia. Last week, federal regulators met with Massey officials about numerous safety problems at the Upper Big Branch Mine, but before anything could be done there was an explosion that killed 29 workers in the worst mine accident in 40 years.
According to Mine Safety and Health Administration spokesperson, Amy Louviere, the agency's manager for District 3, which covers Southern West Virginia, met with Massey officials Monday morning, hours before the explosion, about the Upper Big Branch Mine's safety violations, including issues with ventilation.
MSHA has issued more than 120 violations at the mine so far this year including several having to do with the accumulation of combustible materials and the mine's ventilation plan.
We don't know yet what caused the explosion, but we do know that Massey and other large coal companies expended a lot of energy -- some of which could have been applied toward fixing safety problems -- toward battling regulators instead:
As reporter Ken Ward Jr. outlined Monday, stiffer federal fines were mandated after West Virginia's Sago mine tragedy in 2006. But various coal firms used their high-priced corporate lawyers to dispute two-thirds of new fines. Massey exceeded the industry average by appealing three-fourths of them. Thus many safety actions were stalled.
We've all gotten used to that kind of crap in the United Corporate States of America, but there's something about Massey Energy that's particular noxious. Mainly, it's Blankenship, who piled onto his company's worker-be-damned attitude with a personal Twitter feed (now very pious, all of a sudden) that he largely used to ridicule the science on global warming.
There are numerous postings about climate change. “Believe me yet?” says a Feb. 19 tweet. “Global warming is a hoax and a Ponzi scheme.”
It was Don Blankenship who personally led the crusade to keep a safety-mind union out of Upper Big Branch, and Blankenship who spent millions on a successful smear campaign to oust an unfriendly judge on West Virginia's highest court. And, if I know 21st Century America like I think I do, it is Blankenship who will be held completely unaccountable for his reckless and irresponsible actions.