Coal, corruption and campaign finance reform

By , April 6, 2010 2:48 pm

The Massey Energy coal mine explosion yesterday was tragic, killing 25 people, more than any accident since decades. Sadly, it was also all too predictable. The disaster appears to be the consequence of a failed ventilation system allowing high levels of methane to accumulate. Federal investigators have fined Massey hundreds of thousands of dollars because of improper ventilation systems, and inadequate firefighting equipment. In 2006, a similar violation resulted in a fire that killed two miners.

Even aside from its abysmal safety record, Massey, and its leader, Don Blankenship, are almost cartoonishly villainous in the way they approach everything from the environment to union rights to media scrutiny. They've pioneered mountain top removal mining, a particularly destructive form of mining that dirties local water supplies, ruins animal habitats, and damages the foundations of nearby houses, all while eliminating much of the Appalachians. Massey refuses to hire union workers, and thus denies its workers an advocacy group that could press for, among other things, safer ventilation systems. And Blankenship himself has been downright thuggish to critics and reporters, grabbing an ABC news camera and saying the cameraman was “liable to get shot” if he kept taking pictures.

If you think this makes Massey unpopular among residents of West Virginia, where it does most of its mining, you'd be right. West Virginians overwhelmingly oppose mountaintop removal mining, and some politicians, like Sen. Robert Byrd and Rep. Nick Rahall, openly criticize Massey. But the effects are limited, as Blankenship has more or less purchased the state's government. He's certainly bought the state Supreme Court, spending millions to unseat a justice who had ruled in favor of mine workers.

via Ezra Klein – Coal, corruption and campaign finance reform.

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