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Upper Big Branch Mine Report: ‘Deviant Practices’ By Massey Energy

4:46 am in Uncategorized by Chuckie Corra

Untitled by uʌ, on Flick

 

Davitt McAteer was commissioned to lead an independent investigation into the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, an explosion in the Massey operated mine in Raleigh County, W.VA that killed 29 miners last April.  McAteer and his team finished their investigation and released the information to the families of the miners who perished in the disaster.  What they found was staggering, but to many it wasn’t surprising.  Many believed, as I have pointed out previously and thus subscribed to, that Massey Energy was to blame for the explosion.  Massey ran a non-union mine (to which former-CEO Don Blankenship proudly proclaimed) in Raleigh County, and appeared to disregard many safety regulations that culminated in the worst coal-mine disaster that the United States has seen in 40 years.  Coal Tattoo has provided a lot of information about the investigation panel’s findings and the subsequent reactions from the press etc.  The McAteer investigation team produced a lot of information that was compiled over the past several months, but the bottom line of the investigation clearly sticks out.

The bottom line in McAteer’s report:

The explosion was the result of failures of basic safety systems identified and codified to protect the lives of miners.

The disaster at Upper Big Branch was man-made and could have been prevented.

(Source: Coal Tattoo)

The bottom line: It could have been prevented.  Massey Energy’s negligence was a key player leading into the deaths of those West Virginia miners.  In a press release provided by the Coal Tattoo blog, McAteer’s investigation panel had this to say:

Such total and catastrophic systemic failures can only be explained in the context of a culture in which wrongdoing became acceptable, where deviation became the norm. In such a culture it was acceptable to mine coal with insufficient air; with buildups of coal dust; with inadequate rock dust. The same culture allowed Massey Energy to use its resources to create a false public image to mislead the public, community leaders and investors — the perception that the company exceeded industry safety standards. And it became acceptable to cast agencies designed to protect miners as enemies and to make life difficult for miners who tried to address safety. It is only in the context of a culture bent on production at the expense of safety that these obvious deviations from decades of known safety practices makes sense.

This is a quickly developing story with more information to come soon.

Massey Energy In the Hot Seat Again

2:00 pm in Uncategorized by Chuckie Corra

As sad as it truly is, I am no longer surprised when I read horrific headlines about Massey Energy. Since the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, Massey Energy and Don Blankenship have become synonymous with neglect, crookedness, and wrong-doings. This recent headline, found on Charleston Gazette’s Coal Tattoo, is certainly no different. The headline reads "NPR report: Massey Energy ordered methane detector disabled at Upper Big Branch Mine."

Now, it has been awhile since I’ve posted on the Seminal about Blankenship or Massey. (Due to African excursions and summer jobs, I’ve had my hands quite full the past few months. However, for those of you who are first time readers or who may not remember, here is a refresher on some things.

First off, the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster in Raleigh County West Virginia was one of the biggest mining disasters the US has seen in a very long time. Massey Energy and Don Blankenship were not seen in a very bright light afterwards.

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Blankenship to Testify Before Congress: The Dark Saga Continues

2:01 am in Business by Chuckie Corra

Its been over a month since the Upper Big Branch Mine, a Massey Energy owned and operated mine, faced a disaster due to a methane related explosion that took 29 miners lives. It was a dark day for the state of West Virginia, the coal industry, and the entire country. To West Virginians, and even those not from the state, these fallen miners will be in our hearts forever.

Don Blankenship is the current Chairman, CEO, and head right-wing gun-toting thug in charge of Massey Energy. Massey is currently the 6th largest coal company in the United States by production. Blankenship, to most people, is seen as cold, dark, and very mysterious. If you need further convincing, watch this ABC News video of one of their correspondents attempting to evoke an interview from Blankenship. The video shows the ABC News rep wanting to ask Blankenship about pictures published in the New York Times of him with Former WV State Supreme Court Judge and Current Republican nominee for WV 3rd Congressional District Eliot "Spike" Maynard. Maynard was elected to the Supreme Court in WV.

Several news outlets have begun to report that Don Blankenship will testify this Thursday before the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) Committee regarding the April 5, 2010 mine explosion in Raleigh County, West Virginia .

Mine blast: Don Blankenship, the head of Massey Energy Co., testifies before a Senate panel investigating the explosion that killed 29 workers at his company’s coal mine in West Virginia.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle’s SF Gate

Blankenship, 60, plans to appear before the Labor and Health and Human Services subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, on May 20 in Washington, his first appearance before Congress since the explosion.

Massey said last month that it expects a second-quarter charge of as much as $212 million for the accident, more than twice its 2009 earnings.

The costs will include $80 million to $150 million for benefits for families of the miners, rescue and recovery efforts, insurance deductibles, legal and other contingencies, Massey said. The value of the damaged equipment, development and mineral rights is an additional $62 million.

Source: Businessweek.com

With the pieces still being picked up in rural West Virginia, Blankenship has a slew of problems on his hands. Massey Energy has seen its stock slump since the disaster (big shocker there) and he is constantly being questioned about the incident and his lack of care for safety violations and hazardous working conditions. It has seen a -21.7% change YTD with their stocks recently plummeting 10% after a possibility of a criminal investigation was mentioned, and 40% since the disaster.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Shares of Massey Energy plunged about 10% Monday after a report surfaced over the weekend indicated the coal mining company may face a criminal investigation.

Federal prosecutors are investigating possible "willful criminal activity" by "directors, officers and agents" of Massey subsidiary Performance Coal at the Upper Big Branch coal mine where an explosion killed 29 workers last month, The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

A Bloomberg report on Monday claimed that some large Massey shareholders will seek to block the re-election of three company board members at the meeting.

Another report by the Wall Street Journal on Monday said a congressional committee will vote on Wednesday on whether to give the House Education and Labor Committee deposition power to call witnesses in for questioning on the case.

Massey shares have fallen about 40% since the mine explosion on April 5.

Source: CNN Money

More interesting news for Massey Energy, in what seems to be an effort to obtain transparency in lieu of shady business, as they have now declared that they will declassify their board of directors. This according to the Wall Street Journal, the board is proposing to introduce the idea to shareholders etc. and potentially even make the process more democratic.

Massey Energy Co. said its board plans to propose that directors stand for election every year for one-year terms.

Chairman and Chief Executive Don Blankenship and lead independent director Admiral Bobby R. Inman said the move to declassify the board of the coal producer was a result of stockholder input and the board’s ongoing review of Massey’s corporate governance policies.

A classified board, where classes of directors generally are elected for three-year terms and only a portion of the directors stands for election each year, is harder to dislodge through the shareholder meeting process.

The board plans to hold a special shareholder meeting in the next three to six months where it will propose that stockholders approve declassification.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Blankenship has seen his fair share of controversy, as I have detailed in several previous blogs in wake of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, and this proves there isn’t an end in sight. Blankenship, amidst numerous calls to step down and many claims of injustice and fraud, refuses to forgo his position as CEO of Massey. Its hard to tell whether this is simply Blanky trying to play a game and manipulate his business further, saving his butt from criminal allegations, or just plain stubbornness. My personal opinion? He needs to step down. Futher even, he needs to be criminally indicted. Too often, CEO fat cats like Blank are left alone to ravage whatever gets in their way in the holy name of money.

Massey Energy chief executive Don Blankenship, whose Richmond-based company is under investigation after a deadly explosion at its Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, said he has no plans to resign.

"Whatever happened at UBB is something that needs to be figured out, but it’s not the result of my management style," Blankenship, 60, said in an interview.

From The Washington Post, as reported by Bloomberg

An end is not in sight for this ongoing Blankenship conundrum, which can be seen as good news and bad news. I want resolution. I hope that one day this man will receive the proper justice brought to him, not on a silver platter, but closer to a penitentiary meal tray.

He doesn’t represent the values and culture of Appalachia, he represents the coal industry and corporate greed. I for one will not stand for this. The question still remains, will the people of Congress and those in higher powers finally grow a pair and do something about corrupt and greedy tycoons like Blankenship? Or will they let this case slither away like a cunning snake, deep into the elusive tall grass it will await yet another prey who is unbeknownst to their presence.

Time will tell my good Progressive brothers and sisters in arms, time will tell.

Souls as Black As Coal

5:00 pm in Uncategorized by Chuckie Corra

Will the notorious Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, ever be forced to relinquish his position as Supreme Chief? More calls for the Appalachian coal baron to be ousted appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette yesterday.

The drumbeat of calls for a shake-up in Massey Energy’s leadership grew louder last week as pension funds and other investors sued the nation’s fourth-largest coal producer and lobbied other shareholders to press for the ouster of chairman and CEO Don Blankenship and three directors.

Not surprisingly, Massey Energy hasn’t been performing as it normaly does in the markets since the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in early April that shocked the nation, and especially West Virginia. The FBI recently opened investigations for Massey Energy in lieu of the mine tragedy that selfishly took 29 brave miners’ lives.

The Virginia-based coal producer’s shares sunk another 11 percent Friday, closing at $36.63. Since the accident, the value of Massey’s shares has fallen $1.4 billion.

Recently, bribery charges have been floating around as possibilities for a Massey Energy fault. Investigators are currently delving deeper into the proposed wrongdoing, while watchdog groups have begun to offer rewards.

WASHINGTON, May 3 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — StopTheChamber.com, a national watchdog group dedicated to government and corporate accountability, today offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any Massey Energy executive for paying a bribe to any federal official for any purpose, including to cover up or ignore safety violations, pass legislation, or install or appoint pro-Massey people in key oversight positions.

Source: PR Newswire

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Corporate Cruelty: Massey Denies Time Off For Miners to Attend Funerals

10:13 pm in Uncategorized by Chuckie Corra

I realize that the majority of my recent diaries have been continuing coverage of the Massey mine disaster, and I feel it is important to inform the people about such an event and its aftermath. A small state like West Virginia doesn’t get a lot of publicity, and events like this are sometimes allowed to die without proper justice being brought.

Massey Energy, the Virginia-based coal giant that runs the Upper Big Branch Mine, has denied time off for miners to attend their friends’ funerals; has rejected makeshift memorials outside the mine site; and, in at least one case, required a worker to go on shift even though the fate of a relative — one of the victims of the April 5 disaster — remained unknown at the time, according to some family members and other sources familiar with those episodes. In short, the company might be taking heat for putting profits and efficiency above its workers, but it doesn’t appear to have changed its tune in the wake of the worst mining tragedy in 40 years.

Source: Think Progress

It is appalling to me that something like this is allowed to happen without repercussions. That an employee isn’t even allowed leave from work to visit a loved one’s funeral who died in a terrible mining disaster. This is disgusting. My heart goes out to the miners who are forced to continue working under the iron fist and black soul of Blankenship.

So now, to cover up this catastrophe, Massey has hired a PR firm from Texas (Public Strategies). This firm has quite a load on their hands, especially given this new discovery from Think Progress

Public Strategies, an Austin, Texas-based firm owned by advertising giant WPP, has been brought in by the mining company’s board in recent days to advise it on how to respond to questions about the company’s governance and the board’s general oversight of the company, people familiar with the matter said. An explosion at the company’s Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia killed 29 miners earlier this month.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Also according to the WSJ, part of the firm has ties with the Bush White House, no doubt Blankenship is a fan. (also Clinton ties)

I have lost every bit of respect I’ve ever had for Massey and Blankenship (which albeit wasn’t very much at all).

The Miners Lost

5:41 pm in Uncategorized by Chuckie Corra

http://media.cnpapers.com/montcoalminers/

This video is credited to Doug Imbrogno of the Charleston Gazette. His blog can be seen here I found this on the Coal Tattoo blog on the Gazette’s website and thought I’d share. The brave men whose lives were lost in the Upper Big Branch Mine.

In Memory of Christopher Bell, 33; Gregory Steven Brock, 47; Kenneth Allan Chapman, 53; Charles Timothy Davis, 51; Cory Davis, 20; Michael Lee Elswick, 56; William I. Griffith, 54; Edward Dean Jones, 50; Richard K. Lane, 45; Nicholas Darrell McCroskey, 26; Joe Marcum, 57; Ronald Lee Maynor, 31; James E. Mooney, 50; Adam Keith Morgan, 21; Rex L. Mullins, 50; Joshua S. Napper, 25; Howard D. Payne, 53; Dillard Earl Persinger, 32; Joel R. Price, 55; Gary Quarles, 33; Grover Dale Skeens, 57; and Ricky Workman, 50.

We will keep fighting for you, and will not give up. Justice is deserved and shall be brought. Love and condolences to the families of the miners and all those affected by the horrible tragedy.

Coal Firms Fought to Keep Mines UNSAFE

6:20 pm in Uncategorized by Chuckie Corra

The disgusting truth about the corporate curs who run Massey Energy keeps on emerging from the depths of rural West Virginia. In a new Editorial for the Charleston Gazette, the case has been laid about Coal firms fighting to keep the mines unsafe, in order to avoid shutting down mines and losing more money by fixing the hazards.

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.

More disturbing quotes in the article show the prior knowledge of bad things to come

"Every day that these safety violations go unresolved, the chance that this nation will see another tragic mining accident grows." It was a prediction worthy of Nostradamus.

Worthy of Nostradamus? That’s questionable considering that any corporate jockey for Massey knew that their conditions were unsafe. Predicting a tragedy of this magnintude? Now that is a whole other story, but the Massey corner office-holders knew damn well that what they were doing was unsafe and endangered the lives of their miners. So why didn’t they stop? Money. A price was put on the lives of the workers, and apparently it wasn’t big enough for the company.

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President of United Mine Workers: “Don Blankenship should be held responsible.”

11:12 am in Uncategorized by Chuckie Corra

From DC: Cecil Roberts (President, UMWA) says there have been 3 organizing attempts at
Big Branch mine, 65% – 70% of workers signed union cards, Blankenship
personally threatened the workers that if they voted for the union, he would close the mine down and they would lose their jobs. This is one of the biggest steps forward in prosecuting Don Blankenship for his negligence.

Or view the Video Here:

http://www.iseenews.com/87247

Cecil Roberts was on the Ed Show a couple of nights ago (this was before the grim news came out that none of the remaining 4 miners survived).

Roberts claims that employees of these mines should be allowed to refuse work in terrible conditions like these. He even said that one of the miners wasn’t even aware of the numerous safety violations incurred by the Upper Big Branch Mine.

This type of cruel injustice needs to be stopped. People like this need the protection of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Men like Don Blankenship cannot be allowed to continue with the destruction they are causing.

Prayers for the miners and their families, and for justice.