In 2010, former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship went to court following a massive explosion in which 29 miners died. After several years of investigations and court proceedings, it was determined that the CEO was at fault. He had violated a series of health and mine safety standards that caused the explosion. Blankenship was committed to a year in prison – a sentence that just finished at the beginning of May. Now, he wants vindication from the Supreme Court.
Blankenship Appeals the Supreme Court
The Upper Big Branch (UBB) disaster went down in history as one of the biggest corporation tragedies, but Blankenship is still pleading innocent, even after a guilty conviction and a year in prison. “We never give up,” says his attorney William Taylor regarding their efforts to clear his name. Taylor notified the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to inform them of the Supreme Court petition.
Taylor is convinced that the Supreme Court will hear their plea. “It’s a pretty clear issue,” he reported. “We’re either right or wrong about that.”
Blankenship Claims Innocence Despite Opposing Evidence
While Taylor has been hard at work building a case for Blankenship’s vindication, Blankenship has taken to Twitter to alert the world of his innocence. He continues to blame the UBB catastrophe on federal regulators. He says it was an inundation of natural gas, not negligence on his part that caused the explosion.
He also claims to be the victim of some bigger government conspiracy in which they paid him off and are trying to use him as a scapegoat. He has been quite active on Twitter since his release. Here’s a sampling of some of the many tweets Blankenship has published in the last few days:
“Ann Coulter free speech in news lately. She's lucky - govt put me under $5M bond, gag order, and in prison said my speech “troubles the US.’”
“Ask MSHA whether they required airflow to be cut in half or whether government witnesses lied under oath at my trial. Which is it?”
“MSHA cut airflow, natural gas inundated the UBB mine, sparks from sandstone ignited the gas. MSHA actually agrees. They should just say it.”
“I challenge Sen. Manchin to debate UBB truth. A U.S. Senator who says I have ‘blood on my hands’ should be man enough to face me in public.”
Despite his claims of innocence, evidence shows that the explosion was the result of inadequate safety measures. There was a disproportionate amount of explosive coal dust throughout the mine shafts, poor ventilation, and outdated equipment.
The investigators also found Blankenship to be a micromanager with an obsessive focus, which did not help his case.
Call for More Focus on Safety Measures
Blankenship did an interview with 580-Live with Charleston Mayor Danny Jones immediately following his release from prison. There, he talked about his innocence as well as encouraged the rest of the world to maintain focus on greater safety measures.
“Coal miners are at risk unless tragedies and accidents are used to improve miner safety and there’s a lot of lessons learned in the explosion,” said Don Blankenship. “They need to be used to make miners safer.”
He also said that he’s learned a thing or two about the poor safety measures in the mine. “The thing that I regret about UBB is that the lessons learned there have not been put into mine safety enhancement,” he said.
Right now, Blankenship is pushing for greater safety measures in plants where ignorance can mean death. We’ve seen some serious safety disasters from the Union Carbide disaster of 1984 to the Sago Mine catastrophe in 2006. He’s right that continued vigilance in safety measures all over the world should be a huge priority, but it’s not clear whether he really believes that or is using it as a ploy to prove his innocence.
Most Believe He’s Guilty
Many aren’t buying Blankenship’s story of innocence, including the families of some of the miners that died. “He shouldn’t be coming out,” Tommy Davis, a former Upper Big Branch employee who lost a son, a brother and a nephew in the blast, told The Associated Press. “He didn’t get what he deserved.”
Senator Manchin has also made statements supporting the families of the deceased. “The families of the fallen 29 brave miners deserve better, so I hope that Mr. Blankenship chooses to do the right thing and disappear from the public eye,” Manchin said.
It’s not clear yet if the Supreme Court will hear Blankenship’s case. The UBB mine disaster has been one of the biggest catastrophes of the century, and the evidence against Blankenship is mounting. It doesn’t look good for Blankenship, despite his apparent focus on greater safety measures in mining conditions.