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May 2011, Week 4

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Mon, 23 May 2011 00:55:13 -0400
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Despite Mining Disaster, Report Says Coal Giant Massey
`Has Not Changed' and Execs Stay On
by Marian Wang
ProPublica
May 20, 2011
http://www.propublica.org/blog/item/despite-mining-disaster-report-says-coal-giant-massey-has-not-changed-execs

[moderator: to access the numerous links embedded
in the original article please use the link above.]

Buried within the damning report released yesterday [1]
on the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster that killed
29 workers last year were some interesting details about
what could lie ahead for Massey Energy, its executives,
and the safety of its operations.

The report, which was commissioned by West Virginia's
former governor, noted that 18 current and former
executives [2] invoked their Fifth Amendment right to
avoid self-incrimination and refused to cooperate with
investigators. Nonetheless, investigators concluded that
the preventable disaster was a result of a "total and
catastrophic systemic failure" by Massey Energy. 

"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 make
sense," the report said. It also noted that the
company's practices haven't improved much-if at all-
since the disaster occurred.

"More than a year after 29 men died in the Upper Big
Branch mine, there is strong evidence that Massey has
not changed [3] the manner in which it operates its
mines," the report said.

Investigators said the coal giant had "used the leverage
of jobs it provided to attempt to control West
Virginia's political system [4]," casting inspectors,
regulators, and even politicians and community residents
as enemies. According to the report, the company's
former CEO, Don Blankenship instilled fear in local
politicians by spending "vast amounts of money to
influence elections."

As we have noted [5], Blankenship received $2 million
when he retired at the end of last year, and is
scheduled to receive another $10 million in July. He's
expected to stay on as a consultant.

Other top executives are faring just fine too, it seems.
Shortly after Blankenship's retirement, another company,
Alpha Natural Resources, announced an agreement to buy
Massey Energy [6], but Massey executives still scored
some key management roles [7].

Notably, Massey's Chief Operating Officer, Chris Adkins,
will oversee Alpha's main safety program along with
another Alpha executive. According to the report,
"Adkins' history makes him a questionable choice to run
a safety program. One need look no further than [Upper
Big Branch]," investigators said.

NPR notes a few others:

    Massey executives slated for the new Alpha
    management team include Shane Harvey, Massey's vice
    president and general counsel. He becomes senior
    vice president of legal in the new executive
    structure. Harvey has also acted as Massey's chief
    spokesman. Massey CEO Baxter Phillips "will continue
    on in a senior advisory capacity.

An Alpha Natural Resources spokesman told West Virginia
Public Broadcasting that the company feels good about
its vetting process [8] of Massey employees.

Both criminal and civil investigations are ongoing-those
will "undoubtedly" result in penalties against the
company and its managers, the report said. So far, only
one Massey official has faced criminal charges [9] in
connection with the disaster. He's charged with lying to
federal investigators.

The report also revealed that autopsies of the miners'
remains showed that most of them-even those with less
than 10 years of experience in mining-had black lung
[10], a deadly disease that's preventable if coal dust
is kept under control with the appropriate safety
measures.

According to the report, the prevalence rate of black
lung among miners is 3.2 percent nationally and 7.6
percent within West Virginia. It was 71 percent among
the Upper Big Branch victims. (iWatch has more [11] on
this.)

Last month Massey informed the families of victims that
come June 1, the company's $3 million settlement offer
will expire [12], NPR reported. The company warned:
"Massey does not know and cannot predict what approach
Alpha will take with respect to settlement" after the
merger occurs.

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