WASHINGTON — The nation’s largest mining union is slamming a series of new TV advertisements by former Massey Energy executive Don Blankenship as his latest “appalling” attempt to skirt responsibility for the deaths of 29 West Virginia coal miners in 2010.
United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil E. Roberts said in a statement Monday that he was “disgusted” by the ads, which he called a “desperate, low-life attempt to once again shift the blame for a decade of death, destruction and despair at Massey Energy while Blankenship was CEO.”
The ads, released last week under the label “For the Sake of Coal Miners,” point the finger at the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration for the explosion at Upper Big Branch mine and urge Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to “tell the truth” about the incident.
Blankenship was convicted of misdemeanor conspiracy for safety violations that led to the Upper Big Branch disaster and served a year in prison. Upon his release in May, he erupted with a series of aggrieved posts on Twitter, lashing out at Manchin and former Labor Department official Joe Main, who headed up the MSHA during the tragedy.
With their political tone, the advertisements seem to further signal Blankenship’s intent to run against Manchin in the 2018 U.S. Senate race.
“Manchin must tell the truth about UBB — for the sake of miners,” one ad concludes.
In a third ad, Gwen Thomas — whose brother was killed in the explosion at the mine — questions whether MSHA played a role in it by requiring ventilation changes that reduced the airflow at the mine.
“I would appreciate Senators Manchin and [Shelley Moore] Capito and President [Donald] Trump helping me get answers to these questions,” Thomas says.
Federal officials concluded in a 2011 report that the deadly blast was “preventable” and that Massey Energy Co. “promoted and enforced a workplace culture that valued production over safety, and broke the law as they endangered the lives of their miners,” as HuffPost previously reported.
Blankenship — who has painted himself a “political prisoner” and continues to claim the explosion resulted from a natural gas leak underground — was convicted for conspiring to violate mine safety laws. He was acquitted of other felony charges.
Roberts said the “facts are clear” about Blankenship’s role in the UBB miners’ deaths. He called the coal baron’s one-year prison sentence “one of the greatest travesties of justice that I have witnessed.”
“Four responsible, professional investigations all agreed as to the cause of the Upper Big Branch disaster: A small pocket of methane gas was ignited at the coal face by improperly maintained equipment. That ignition then set off a much more powerful and deadly coal dust explosion that rocketed to the farthest recesses of the mine and then rebounded back, killing everyone in its path. The primary reason there was enough coal dust available to allow this to happen was because Massey Energy’s subsidiary, Performance Coal, failed to adequately ventilate the mine, failed to remove excess coal dust from the mine and failed to adequately rock dust the mine.
“Don Blankenship, by creating a corporate culture that put production over safety, is responsible for these failures. It is appalling that he continues his despicable attempt to shift the blame from himself, each time ripping open the painful wounds the families of the victims will suffer forever. 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.”