Toxic Substances: December 2015 Archives

A West Virginia jury just found former Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship guilty of a conspiracy to violate safety standards, but exonerated him from several other charges. Blankenship was only convicted of a misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of $250,000 and a year in jail (sentencing will not occur until next March). This is a ridiculously insufficient punishment. What's $250,000 to a man worth hundreds of millions? And, until Blankenship and his fellow coal industry culprits are truly held accountable, how can we expect them to stop their illegal and devastating practices?

In 2010, a coal dust explosion -- the worst mining accident since 1970 -- at the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 miners. Prior to the explosion, the mine had been cited for over 1,300 safety violations by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, but Blankenship dismissed concerns, stating in an interview that safety violations are "a normal part of the mining process." Accordingly, he faced charges of security fraud, making false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and defrauding the federal government, in addition to the conspiracy indictment.

Massey Energy has been guilty of a myriad of environmental crimes, in addition to their disregard for workers' safety. As of 2010, it was the biggest perpetrator of mountaintop removal mining, an extremely deleterious practice, and has been careless with its toxic coal ash since the 1980s. Massey's irresponsible practices have contaminated much of West Virginia's groundwater, causing sickness, cancer and birth defects. According to the environmental site PolluterWatch, Blankenship has long "consider[ed] environmental regulations 'as silly as global warming,' of which he is an avid denier."

Despite its inadequacy, the jury's verdict is significant because it marks one of the first times that a leading figure in the coal industry has been held legally responsible for wrongdoing. However, it underscores the necessity of increasing the penalties for these heinous offenses -- and of actually enforcing them.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Toxic Substances category from December 2015.

Toxic Substances: March 2012 is the previous archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.