Coal baron Don Blankenship is pushing back against calls for his resignation, following the deadly explosion at his company’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, WV, the worst US coal disaster in 40 years. In an extended interview with the Charleston Daily Mail, the Massey Energy chairman and CEO challenged the idea that anyone should be held accountable for the mine explosion, which killed 29 miners:
I don’t think anybody’s head has to roll. I think that’s misplaced emphasis right now. The guys that are running these coal mines, they’re heartbroken, and they’re distressed and despondent, and the last thing they need is anybody pointing fingers at them right now. We don’t need anybody to be more impacted than they already have been.
Gone was the partisan, anti-regulatory, science-denying, unrepentant right-wing capitalist Don Blankenship. The Blankenship in the Daily Mail interview was conciliatory and cautious, though flashes of his high self-regard and combative spirit appeared.
|The Wit and Wisdom of Don Blankenship|
|There’s so many of the laws that are, if you will, nonsensical from an engineering or a coal mining viewpoint. A lot of the politicians, they get emotional, as does the public, about the most recent accident, and it’s easy to get laws on the books that are not truly helping the health or safety of coal miners. [6/23/09]||We really need more cooperation rather than one side, i.e. the government, either the state or the federal government and the companies being at loggerheads.|
|We also endure a Mine Safety and Health Administration that seeks power over coal miners versus improving their safety and their health. . . . I also know Washington and state politicians have no idea how to improve miner safety. [9/7/09]||There are things that when you are in my role you have to take come comfort you have professionals, the federal government has professionals, the state has professionals, and you have to at some extent rely on what they are doing.|
|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. ||If you know me, I’m a pragmatist. I believe in pragmatism.|
|I think climate change is a normal course of history, that there is not any correlation that can be shown between man-made CO2 emissions and climate. . . . I don’t believe the scientists look at the mathematical logic to it. They’ve looked at different periods of history and geology and science and all this. They look at temperatures. [11/16/09]||I believe in finding causation, and I believe that physics and chemistry and so forth are the same every day regardless of what the political atmosphere is.|
|This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that the coal pays the bills. [10/19/05]||I have no interest in the money aspects of it or anything, I’m just trying to get the job done.|
|We don’t pay much attention to the violation count. [5/26/03]
Violations are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process. [4/6/10]
|We’re not operating any mine that we think needs to be shut down; otherwise it would be shut down. I did idle several mines yesterday and maybe some more this week on the basis of violations since this accident to make sure we use the violations at one particular mine to assess all similar circumstances at all of our mines.|
“It would be a big disappointment to everybody else involved if I were to walk away from [the job],” Blankenship concluded, ignoring the calls for his resignation coming from shareholders, workers, and consumer advocates.
Today, President Barack Obama discussed the initial findings of an investigation by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Mine Safety and Health Administration chief Joe Main, and MSHA Administrator for Coal Mine Safety and Health Kevin Stricklin:
We just concluded a meeting, where they briefed me on their investigation. I want to emphasize that this investigation is ongoing, and there’s still a lot that we don’t know. But we do know that this tragedy was triggered by a failure at the Upper Big Branch mine — a failure first and foremost of management, but also a failure of oversight and a failure of laws so riddled with loopholes that they allow unsafe conditions to continue.
,Massey Energy fires back at President Obama in a corporate statement:
Today’s statements by the White House about the Upper Big Branch tragedy are regrettable. We fear that the President has been misinformed about our record and the mining industry in general.