FLASHBACK: Don Blankenship warned West Virginia that he believes in “survival of the fittest”

Coal baron Don Blankenship is complaining about the “indignity” of the press for investigating his role as the CEO of Massey Energy, whose Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, WV, is the site of the deadliest mining disaster since 1984, with at least 25 miners killed. Blankenship has a long record of putting coal profits over safety. At the time of the accident, Massey was contesting dozens of major safety violations at the Montcoal mine, even as Blankenship increased production.

Blankenship has a “dark, soulless, and destructive social-Darwinist” view of the United States, as Brad Johnson explains in this repost.

Blankenship “” whose $23.7 million annual compensation includes the use of the company jet and helicopter and a mansion with several servants “” has made no effort to hide his “radical” philosophy of unfettered capitalism. He explained this philosophy most clearly in a 1986 documentary by Anne Lewis on his role crushing the union miners at Massey’s Blackberry Creek mine, saying that “everybody’s going to have to learn to accept” that the United States is ruled by the law of “survival of the fittest”:

What you have to accept in a capitalist society, generally, is that I always make the comparison it’s like a jungle, where a jungle is survival of the fittest. Unions, communities, people, everybody’s going to have to learn to accept that in the United States you have a capitalist society. And that capitalism from a business viewpoint is survival of the most productive. And you may have a year, two years, five year periods where lesser productive companies or people have benefit. But in the long term, it’s going to be the most productive people who benefit.

Blankenship’s social-Darwinist view of the United States is dark, soulless, and destructive. Unlike the mythical uber-capitalists of Ayn Rand novels, Blankenship has no interest in free-market competition within the bounds of the law. Instead, he subverts the political system, busts unions, illegally destroys Appalachia’s unique ecosystem, flouts labor laws, ignores safety rules, and intimidates employees to serve his black obsession with running coal.

Blankenship has successfully delivered his twisted vision of society to West Virginia “” flattened mountains, toxic waters, crushing poverty, political corruption, broken communities, and the needless, preventable deaths of the state’s hard-working miners.

28 Responses to FLASHBACK: Don Blankenship warned West Virginia that he believes in “survival of the fittest”

  1. mike roddy says:

    I guess that means that the miners who died in last week’s explosion, and the many others who have died from mercury and SOx pollution from coal power plants, are just evolutionary losers.

    The only thing I respect about Blankenship is that he’s open about it. The managers of other fossil fuel companies are no better, but cloak it in better PR, and have nice haircuts and manicures. Too many Americans are dazzled by their money. Well, Caligula had money, too. We need spiritual leaders who can communicate the difference between good and evil, and then live it. The people who own this country have been doing the opposite.

  2. Lars Karlsson says:

    “Survival of the fittest” should mean that non-competitive companies go bankrupt, not that people die.

  3. Fred Teal says:

    Blankenship prospers because his actions reflect the underlying belief by many in our Nation that the acquisition and accumulation of wealth is the greatest possible good. Even some of the miners that were interviewed expressed the belief that working in mines was “very risky” and implied that each miner was undertaking the work with this understanding. Ergo, they, along with Blankenship, assume responsibility for what happened.

    It is hard to see how they could possibly take this point of view unless the dollars earned were valued as much as life itself.
    Sad day, our sense of values is so distorted.

  4. paulm says:

    Ok, so the oil sheiks are starting to think of survival.
    Lets hope the republicans are as smart as them.—expert

  5. Anne says:

    While it sounds a bit too eco-radical to lay the claim that Don Blankenship belongs in front of a jury, charged with multiple counts of manslaughter (perhaps even murder in the first degree??) — as a concerned citizen and steward of the Earth, I’m going to lay the claim, right here and now. The fact of the matter is that Blankenship “bought” his own immunity from prosecution under the law (e.g. see Democracy Now headline: — “Court: Judges Must Avoid Appearance of Bias — In another closely watched case, the Supreme Court ruled that a West Virginia judge should have disqualified himself from an appeal of a $50 million jury verdict against Massey Energy because the coal mining company’s CEO had been a major campaign donor. By a 5-4 vote, the justices held that the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals judge should have removed himself from deciding the case, because Massey chief executive Don Blankenship had spent $3 million to help him get elected to the court.” His hubris and utter unfeeling callousness towards his own employees is off the charts, he literally couldn’t give a damn about anything except “moving coal.” He’s also ignorant and blind, denying all IPCC findings while whining about recent abnormally harsh weather patterns slowing down his precious coal operations — failing miserably to recognize the link between coal burning and climate disruption, as I pointed out in a previous guest post here at Climate Progress. ( It’s not like people haven’t tried to tell him — even James Hansen himself went to the mountaintop with actress Daryl Hannah to call attention to the heinous practice of mountaintop removal — After seeing to it that Hansen and Hannah were arrested, Blankenship ludicrously challenged Hansen to a public debate of the facts around climate change and then conveniently had to be out of town when Hansen accepted. And while burning coal in an of itself can increasingly be called a moral crime given the dire consequences, intentionally putting innocent people in harm’s way to maximize profit, after warned repeatedly of the dangers, is a real crime in the eyes of the law and should be treated as such. President Obama needs to take a hard line on this incident by bringing the full weight of the law to bear on Blankenship’s actions (and failures to act to prevent reckless endangerment), and insist that the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act is swiftly improved to provide for law enforcement officials (just as EPA has), the power of subpeona, and the power and explicit authority and requisite tools to shut down mines when the warning signals are evident. And while our legal system says “innocent until proven guilty,” my gut tells me that when the evidence is in, Don Blankenship and all who aided and abetted this crime should be behind bars for a very, very, very long time. Anything less than swift, fair, and decisive action on the part of the Obama administration would in and of itself be a crime against humanity, and would cause me to vote for someone other than Obama in the next election.

  6. Anne says:

    I wanted to add — West Virginia might be willing to take one (or a few dozen) for the team, but it’s time we re-examine our dangerous addiction to cheap, de facto unregulated coal, and move quickly to a cleaner, safer, more sustainable energy economy. Can anyone imagine what the public reaction would have been if just one worker was killed by a wind turbine? Environmentalists have shut down wind farms before they’re erected to save some birds, even in West Virginia. But a closer look should recognize that wind energy — a viable solution in this part of the world — should begin to supplant dirty, dangerous coal, and that other forms of reducing energy demand and meeting energy needs (e.g. rooftop solar, geothermal, etc) should be put on the fast track, before another mine kills again.

  7. Leif says:

    This kind of attitude is the logical conclusion of Capitalism and Corporations, C&C, beholden to increasing GDP and black bottom line. C&C are charged with no over riding principal to knowledge earth’s life support systems and humanities roll there in. From the very dawn of capitalism and corporations, the weak and humbled masses have held the smelly end of the stick. Children conscripted to in-hanse profits for the elite, injured workers cast aside and replaced with healthy. Products manufactured with total disregard for public well-being. Ecosystems pillaged and lives ruined. To this day, politicians and judicial systems are bought off to turn a blind eye.

    Yet we are bombarded with the mantra: “What is good for (corp. x,y,z,) is good for the USA,” and by extension the world.

    Capitalism and Corporations are the product of the mind of man, not written in stone and handed down from above, and as such must be adjusted to serve the whole of humanity and not just make billionaires out of millionaires of the most ruthless among us. C&C must be charged to acknowledge humanities survival and long term sustainability. Failure to do so is the ultimate end of both. It is as clear as the deaths in the coal mine… Bhopal, Love Canal, Tobacco…

  8. Bob

    In my humble opinion (from not being of US nationality) those lawyers aiding and abetting these appeals by Massey and others against the tighter legislation already in place should be subject to legal action themselves when, if ever, true justice prevails. If all this fails then once again that famous declaration is shown as not worth the paper on which it is written.

    One of Jules Verne’s novels, ‘Black Diamonds” based upon the trade of death and intimidation behind coal extraction. Verne wrote over fifty novels, I read most of them as a kid – worth a revisit.

    Please don’t consider this spam as this was put onto the end of comments in the earlier Blankenship thread just before this one started.

    I think going after Messey’s lawyers is one of your ideas Anne. Sure look like a way to go.

    To bowlderise Voltair (in the wake of the execution of Admiral Bing on HMS Monarch) in Candide:

    Bringing down one MTR CEO and his aids would discourage the others.

  9. dhogaza says:

    Even some of the miners that were interviewed expressed the belief that working in mines was “very risky” and implied that each miner was undertaking the work with this understanding. Ergo, they, along with Blankenship, assume responsibility for what happened.

    They’re not stupid. They know there’s a reason you can leave the high school graduation stage and walk directly into a non-union Massey underground mining job and soon be making $70K/year in a part of the country where the cost of living is comparatively low. Or you can walk into a surface mining job and soon be making about $50K/year.

    They understand the reason for the differential. They’re being bought off, and know it.

  10. fj2 says:

    oh, the bizarre pathology of power!

    quoting blankenship: ” . . . in the long term, it’s going to be the most productive people who benefit.”

    guess he won’t be around for very long.

  11. sailrick says:

    As many of you know, Massey Energy’s subsidiary had a coal fly ash pond burst in 2000, spilling 300 million gallons of slurry, in what the EPA called the worst environmental disaster in the history of southeastern U.S. It spread 75 miles to the Ohio River and contaminated the water of 27,000 people. For this, Massey was fined a whopping $56,000. Again,Blankenship had bought off the judge. The coal industry had just played a major role in winning one of the Appalachian states for Republicans and G.W. Bush. (I forget if it was W. Virginia, Kentucky or Tennessee) Huge campaign donations from coal boosted the GOP in what was a tight race. Blankenship had also wined and dined judges on a junket to Europe.

    I guess Blankenship hasn’t heard of the role cooperation and symbiosis play in evolution.

  12. sailrick says:

    Massey Energy violated the Clean Water Act 4,500 times between 2000 and 2007

    Regarding the 300 million gallon coal fly ash slurry spill in 2000:

    There was an investigation by MSHA that was squelched after Bush’s election. The investigators were ready to proceed with 8 serious violations, with possible criminal charges. The lead investigator was reassigned, and demoted then fired.
    He was replaced with another, who on the first day said he would close the investigation within a week. He later got a seat on the board of directors of Massey Energy

  13. I think that people like Don Blankenship should be the first to be put on trial for a new type of Crime Against Peace: Ecocide (not just the other crimes like voluntary manslaughter by ignoring safety regulations).

    I recently happened upon an arcticle in the Guardian about this new website created by British lawyer-turned-campaigner Polly Higgins:

    Sounds like a good plan to me to also do against MTR which should make for a very good example of ecocide.

  14. Jeff Huggins says:


    The shareholders should immediately fire him.

    The families of the miners should, in my view, bring a suit against the company and, if possible, against Don B.

    Labor organizations should bring suits against the company and, if possible, Don B.

    The legal authorities should bring charges, if warranted, all things considered, against Don B and anyone else who broke a criminal law.

    The company (and thus its shareholders, through the value of their stock) should definitely be held responsible, financially, for any future violations and disasters if the company (and its shareholders) continue to retain Don B as their leader. In other words, even aside from the recent disaster, but in light of it, if the company chooses to still retain Don B, it will be knowingly accepting full responsibility for any future problems that happen under his leadership.

    I cannot fathom how people, shareholders, the legal authorities, labor organizations, and the like would want or allow Don B to stay in charge. If he stays in charge at this point, the people and organizations who endorse that, or enable it, or passively accept it, will be assuming partial responsibility for future problems.

    I feel sorry for the families involved. And, my own view is that this guy (Don B) should be without a job, starting tomorrow AM.

    Be Well,


  15. David Smith says:

    For obvious reasons, I would not get close to entrusting my life or health into the hands of this man. He seems to view himself as the top of the evolutionary heap and those that work his mines as expendable fodder. Beware employees. Its not worth it.

  16. Wes Rolley says:

    “In its 2009 Form 10-K, the company noted that it does not carry business interruption insurance for the about 1.5 million tons of coal it will not be producing.” (from

    A reduction in demand big enough to drive down the price of coal becomes quite attractive. Maybe Blankenship will find that one needs to be a nimble thinker to survive, not just a big bully.

  17. Ryan T says:

    Seems to me that the most greedy or exploitive (often confused with “productive”) are doing far more than surviving. And often on the backs of the most hard working. I wonder if Blankenship identifies more with the Southern Christians, or more with the moneychangers.

  18. catman306 says:

    “Capitalism becomes Fascism when people die”

    I doubt if Mr. Blankenship realizes what he has become. He needs to be told.

  19. mike roddy says:

    Good suggestions, Jeff. Our legal system seems to be asleep here. Even if Blankenship is made into the fall guy, the whole rotten system of dangerous mine and poisonous effluents needs to be called to task in court.

  20. Chad says:

    I will say it again: Blackenship should be tried for 25 counts of manslaughter, not simply sued into oblivion. There is a limit to how far one can hide behind a corporate front, and Mr. Blackenship has jumped across it with both guns blazing.

  21. Chris Dudley says:

    Wes #16,

    Premiums would need to be high for mines that get a lot of safety citations so the lack of insurance is not surprising. It may be that no one will sell it to Massey just like no one will insure against nuclear accidents, too risky. But, the price of coal is not all that much higher than the cost to mine and deliver it. Cutting the margin probably puts pressure on safety. A carbon fee or cap-and-trade will probably reduce the price of coal by taking some margin and shifting it into the fee or allowance price so it is likely to reduce mine safety.

    The better approach is to shut down unsafe mines, replacing the jobs with renewable energy manufacturing work. Once we shut down the unsafe mines, we next shut down the environmentally most harmful mines, again replacing employment job-for-job. Then, when only Wyoming is producing coal, we stop providing any further leases on federal land. At that point, we are done with coal.

    This is much much better than having unemployment crop up in dribs and drabs throughout the industry with each mine laying off workers slowly so there is no remedy. Converting whole work forces mine-by-mine avoids the unemployment problem entirely. And, more importantly, it prunes the industry rather than allowing it to decay with huge impacts on safety as it dies.

  22. Richard Brenne says:

    Romm’s All-Star Commenters are making great all-star comments again. I especially appreciated Mike’s (#1), Leif’s (#7), Jeff’s (#14) and Chris’ (#21) – making me wonder how great comment #28 will be.

    It appears Blankenship didn’t have Massey drill enough ventilation holes to vent methane.

    There’s an equation there somewhere, like Blankenship wouldn’t spend x number of thousands to prevent the likelihood of y number of deaths.

    Many of these people appear to be Christians, and if they are then they need to heed Jesus’ statements that “It is easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” and that “The last shall be first, and the first last.”

    Those poor, humble, brave miners were made about last by Blankenship in this life, while he has made himself and his god, money, first.

    You couldn’t take Blankenship’s karma and that of all those like him, put them in derivative bundles (including the karma of all those that bundled derivatives) and sell them for a nickel.

  23. Anne says:

    Looks like there’s at least one look-see into Massey’s gross malfeasance, quoted directly from GlobeNewswire:

    April 9, 2010, 12:57 p.m. EDT
    Bronstein, Gewirtz & Grossman, LLC Investigating Possible Securities Law Violations by Massey Energy Company

    NEW YORK, Apr 9, 2010 (GlobeNewswire via COMTEX) — Bronstein, Gewirtz & Grossman, LLC is investigating possible securities laws violations by Massey Energy Company… The investigation focuses on whether a series of statements made by the Company regarding the safety of its coal mines and operations were materially false and misleading when made.

    On April 5, 2010, an explosion erupted at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, killing 25 workers. The explosion was one of the worst mining disasters in the United States in the past two decades. While the cause of the blast is not yet known, the operation run by Massey subsidiary Performance Coal Co. has had a history of violations for not properly ventilating highly combustible methane gas, according to safety officials.

    The day after the explosion, Massey’s shares plummeted $6.24 per share, or 11.4%.

    If you are aware of any facts relating to this investigation, or purchased shares of Massey, you can assist this investigation by contacting either Peretz Bronstein or Eitan Kimelman of Bronstein, Gewirtz & Grossman, LLC at 212-697-6484 or via email Those who inquire by e-mail are encouraged to include their mailing address and telephone number.”

  24. Anne says:

    And one more contribution to this now aging post:

    First, it looks like Massey stock is inching up again, after an 11% drop the day after the explosion. Why?

    These are the Massey officers and executives (and their annual compensation, where listed) who need to be held accountable:

    Don L. Blankenship, CEO/Chairman of the Board/Director/CEO, Subsidiary/Chairman of the Board, Subsidiary — $2,200,000/year

    E. B. Tolbert, CFO/Vice President — $327,389/year

    David W. Owings, Controller/Chief Accounting Officer — not listed

    John Christopher Adkins, COO/Senior VP — $1,010,000/year

    Admiral Bobby R. Inman, Director — not listed

    General Robert H. Foglesong – not listed

    Dan R. Moore, Director — not listed

    Baxter F. Phillips, Jr., Director/President — $1,780,000

    John M. Poma, Divisional Vice President — not listed

    Jeffrey M. Jarosinski, Divisional Vice President/Other Executive Officer — not listed

    Steve E. Sears, President, Subsidiary/Vice President, Divisional — not listed

    Mark A. Clemens, Senior VP, Divisional — not listed

    Jeffrey M. Gillenwater, Vice President, Divisional — not listed

    Michael D. Bauersachs, Vice President, Divisional –not listed

    Michael K. Snelling, Vice President, Subsidiary — not listed

    Richard R. Grinnan, Vice President/Secretary — not listed

  25. Anne says:

    Here’s more info for compensation for Baxter F. Phillips from Forbes:

    Compensation for 2008

    Salary $598,798.00
    Bonus $762,500.00
    Restricted stock awards $342,989.00
    All other compensation $71,691.00
    Option awards $ $1,351,822.00
    Non-equity incentive plan compensation $510,914.00
    Change in pension value and nonqualified deferred compensation earnings $1,392,718.00

    Total Compensation $5,031,432.00

    So Massey pays Phillips over five million dollars a year. One of his jobs there, besides serving as “president” is to serve as a member of Massey’s Finance and Safety, Environmental and Public Policy Committees.

    Does anyone think he’s been earning his keep there?

  26. Jeff Huggins says:

    Where Are The Women??

    Do you notice that there are no women listed in Anne’s Comment 24. Apparently, Massey’s senior executive leadership ranks don’t include any women!?

    WHO is holding stock in this company? WHO is letting these guys get away with what they are getting away with?



  27. catman306 says:

    Anne, thanks for your list of real people who are usually hidden behind a corporation’s logo. Real people make corporate decisions and must be held accountable.

    Perhaps the top 10 common and preferred stock stockowners should be listed (or are) listed somewhere.
    Wouldn’t it be fun to know who owns what! Maybe it would lead to corporations acting more responsibly rather than just going for the short term gain.

  28. catman306 says:

    dhogaza wrote: ‘They’re being bought off, and know it.”

    The southern and Appalachian version of the Protestant Work Ethic includes a subsection that requires workers to expect to be injured in exchange for monetary pay. Lucky employees are never injured. But a 40 year working career is a long time to be lucky.
    Most southern workers never earn anywhere near what a coal miner makes.