Given the deaths (as of this writing) of 25 West Virginia coal miners in an underground explosion, I thought it would be a good time for a Q&A; with Massey Energy Corporation’s CEO, Don L. Blankenship. Perhaps, he could put a better face on things.
Blankenship’s acquired quite a name for himself by berating “greeniacs,” union organizers, President Obama, and corporate America. But government — particularly in the form of federal safety, labor and environmental regulators — is Public Enemy No. 1. Until now, he’s been best known outside West Virginia for his candid contempt for climate science and for bankrolling a star-studded Labor Day Tea Party event with $1 million of his own money.
Blankenship’s company is infused with his hard-driving personality. Massey is far more aggressive than the average coal mining company in contesting citations for safety violations. It was cited so many times for Clean Water Act violations (more than 4,100 of them between 2000 and 2007) that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had to supersede state regulators to sue the company. And it’s pushed particularly hard against the EPA over new regulations for mountaintop removal mines, as well as against climate change legislation.
When protesters sat in trees last fall to delay prep work for the world’s largest mountaintop mine, Massey workers allegedly endangered them by buzzing them with helicopters and bulldozing the ground around the trees.
Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get Blankenship on the phone. He’s not giving a lot of interviews right now. But the CEO’s eloquence in expressing a worldview that denies climate change, upholds the free enterprise system, and ties together a conspiracy of Glenn Beck-ian proportions between corporations, unions, environmentalists, the Chinese, the Indians, the Russians, and the U.S. government against our very way of life truly make him a model spokesman for a future dominated by coal companies unfettered by do-good meddlers. Coal is, after all, the fuel that we seem to be banking our future on.
So, just in case the PR folks at Massey needed a little help during this crisis, I’ve pieced together the pearls of wisdom Blankenship offered during two previous speeches (embedded below), and I’ve invented a series of questions to pair with them.
MNN: Mr. Blankenship, your company’s website notes that Massey takes “great pride in going above and beyond legal requirements to lead the way in health and safety.” But inspections actually found more violations and lost workdays because of injuries at Massey, and particularly at the Upper Big Branch mine, than in the industry as whole. We realize that you’ve been accused of squeezing union employees out of jobs at companies you’ve acquired, that you’ve been laying off workers in favor of mountaintop removal mines and that last week’s explosion led to the most deaths in American mine since the 1960s. But who’s really the enemy of the American mine worker — Massey, or everyone else?
Blankenship: “Our own government is the worst enemy of American labor today, but others in those include environmental extremists, and, yes, multinational corporations who claim to be corporate America. After that, Democrats and Republicans. And all that labor has left to defend itself is itself. American labor can no longer be the sacrificial lamb for environmental extremist egos, for foreign aide and for elicit corporate profits.”
MNN: Well put, sir! Truth to power! I mean, just because you serve on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have earned as much as $33.7 million in a single year, exercised a stock option in February to acquire 200,000 shares in Massey at half their value, spent $3 million electing your own personal justice to the West Virginia Supreme Court, gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to politicians in West Virginia and in Washington — just because of all that, it doesn’t mean you can’t speak for the little guy. Right? Some people keep portraying you as a corporate insider. But we need plain-speaking average Americans like yourself standing up for, well, average Americans like yourself, don’t we?
Blankenship: “We’ve got to get bolder. We’ve got speak our mind. We’ve got to do what we need to do. Let me clear about it: Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid — they don’t know what they’re talking about it. They’re totally wrong. What they do is nonsense. And until we begin to call it what it is, people are going to misunderstand, ‘cause when we talk about it in more articulate, educated ways, the American public doesn’t get it.”
MNN: Why do Gore, Pelosi and Reid hate America?
Blankenship: “Pretty simple: They’re all crazy. I mean it is absolutely crazy. How, how can anybody run for office and say they’re going to bankrupt the coal companies, and be energy independent and get elected? I mean how do you do that? How do you stop us from mining coal while we look for Indiana bats and put up windmills to kill ‘em all? ... The greeniacs are taking over the world.”
MNN: You’re leaving one group out of your list of crazy people: the media. You really showed your character, when you yanked that ABC man’s camera clear out of his hands and told him he was “liable to get shot” if he kept talking pictures of you. Way to go, sir! But even seemingly mainstream outlets like the Charleston Gazette keep turning up embarrassing things about you and your company, like how Massey lost a lawsuit over union busting, like the fact that y’all kept violating the Clean Water Act even after you were fined a million dollars, and like revealing that you and West Virginia’s chief justice took a trip with your girlfriends to the French Riviera when there was a big lawsuit against Massey before the Supreme Court. The media is destroying America, too, aren’t they? It seems like they always get the last word. They’re not playing fair are they?
Blankenship: “It is as great a pleasure to me to be criticized by the communists and the atheists of the Gazette as it is to be applauded by my best friends, because I know that they’re wrong. I mean, when you have an editor that’s an admitted atheist, and when you have people that are clearly of the far-left, communist persuasion, would you want them to speak highly of you?”
MNN: Some people might say though that the way you treat people inevitably is reflected in the way you treat all living things, as well as the environment. And visa-versa. But doesn’t the slippery slope slide in the other direction? I mean, once you start following environmental regulations, they’re probably going to start regulating everything else and destroying America’s wealth everywhere. Aren’t they? What say you to such poppycock sir?
Blankenship: “Y’know, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Russia and China and India in the last year or two. And I can tell you, y’know, that’s the first phase: You go from having your own car, to carpooling, to riding a bus to riding mass transit, and you eventually get down to where you’re walking. And your apartments go from being nice apartments and homes with your own bathrooms, to sharing bathrooms and kitchens with four families, that’s what socialism and the elimination of capitalism and free enterprise is all about. That’s the reason this country lives well because, historically at least, we’ve done the right thing. And we understood that it didn’t matter what was politically correct. What mattered was what was correct.”
MNN homepage photo: Bob Bird/AP