SCOTUS Denies Appeal of Death-Trap Coal Mine Owner Don Blankenship


The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to take up the case of an ex-coal baron convicted of fraud and conspiracy after the worst mining accident in decades.

Justices denied the opportunity to hear the appeal of Don Blankenship, the former Massey Energy CEO found criminally liable for the 2010 disaster at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine in West Virginia. Twenty-nine workers were killed after explosions rocked the mine.

Blankenship was convicted in late 2015 for deceiving federal mining and securities regulators and for willfully violating federal mine safety laws. He was sentenced in April 2016 to a single year in prison. The conviction was upheld by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in January.

After his release in May, the disgraced former executive lashed out at federal regulators and his critics in a Twitter tirade. Those who received a broadside from Blankenship included Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

“A U.S. Senator who says I have ‘blood on my hands’ should be man enough to face me in public,” Blankenship tweeted. Manchin made the remark in a 2014 interview.

Despite his infamy, Blankenship said in July that he is considering mounting a US senate campaign next year—when Manchin’s seat is up for grabs.

Any such development would probably be met with anger and grief from relatives of miners killed in the UBB disaster. Some confronted Blankenship at his sentencing last year.

“I miss my family. He hugged his, and all he gets is a year,” said a bereaved Tommy Davis, who lost his son, brother and nephew in the 2010 disaster.

“He’s standing up there, and he’s hugging them people. I don’t hug nothing but a damn tombstone,” Davis added, accusing Blankenship of having “no remorse.”

A Mining Safety and Health Administration inquiry into the 2010 explosion concluded that Massey Energy engaged in “systematic, intentional, and aggressive efforts” to skirt federal laws and regulations.

Agency investigators discovered that Massey “kept two sets of books.” Only one set was made available to regulators. They also found that workers raising safety concerns were threatened with retaliation.

“The tragedy at UBB began with a methane ignition that transitioned into a small methane explosion that then set off a massive coal dust explosion,” the report noted. “If basic safety measures had been in place that prevented any of these three events, there would have been no loss of life at UBB.”

Two separate independent commissions heaped similar blame on Massey. They also found that the MSHA failed to uphold its oversight responsibilities in the build-up to the 2010 explosion.

Last month, Blankenship seized upon criticism of federal regulators’ shortcomings in a bid to deflect attention from his own responsibilities for the fatal disaster. The former executive released a TV ad, claiming that the Obama administration and Sen. Manchin were engaged in a cover-up, tying the UBB explosion to the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, excoriated Blankenship, accusing him of a “disgusting attempt to rewrite history.”

“Although Don Blankenship may not have received the proper punishment in this world, those families can rest assured that he will receive it in the next,” Roberts said.

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Since 2010, Sam Knight's work has appeared in Truthout, Washington Monthly, Salon, Mondoweiss, Alternet, In These Times, The Reykjavik Grapevine and The Nation. In 2012, he worked as a producer for The Alyona Show on RT. He has written extensively about political movements that emerged in Iceland after the 2008 financial collapse, and is currently working on a book about the subject.


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