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Massey Energy's Don Blankenship: In the Hot Seat Again

Tomorrow (July 22), Don Blankenship, the notorious chairman and CEO of Massey Energy, speaks at the National Press Club. We'll be live blogging to make sure you all get the play-by-play -- which promises to be interesting at the very least if Blankenship's previous speaking engagements are any indicator (we live-blogged at his public debate with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., in January in Charleston, WV -- check it out here).

As you may know, an explosion April 5 at the Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia killed 29 miners. It was the deadliest coal mine explosion in the United States in 40 years.

The federal investigation into the explosion revealed that Upper Big Branch and other Massey mines had a grave history of safety violations. Upper Big Branch had more than 100 mine violation citations from the U.S.Mine Safety and Health Administration this year alone.  Many former Massey mine workers told reporters the mine was plagued with air flow problems, and some said that they felt Massey put mining over the safety of its workers.

Just today, a House panel approved a bill pushing sweeping mine and workplace safety reforms, prompted by this explosion. The House is expected to vote on the bill sometime this year.

Last week, four Massey supervisors pleaded guilty to federal misdemeanor charges for failing to require fire escape drills in the Upper Big Branch mine.

Press reports have pointed to Don Blankenship as the source of the company's mismanagement of safety measures, and he has attracted a huge amount of media attention for his propensity to make controversial statements to media and for some internal company memos and statements as well.

His company's environmental policies -- or mismanagement thereof -- is another story entirely. With Blankenship at the helm, Massey faced at civil suit by the EPA in 2008, alleging the coal company had illegally dumped pollution into waters in West Virginia and Kentucky more than 4,600 times over the past six years.

The company's disregard for clean water protections – about 69,000 days of Clean Water Act violations – carried up to $2.4 billion in fines. Earthjustice intervened on the EPA's behalf in the lawsuit, and ultimately, the Bush administration lowered the penalty and forced Massey to pay $20 million in fines for breaking environmental laws.

In late April of this year, Earthjustice filed a suit against five Massey subsidiaries for violating Clean Water Act permit limits by dumping toxic aluminum into waterways from as many as 16 mines in West Virginia. In total, these mines racked up approximately 3,300 days of permit violations in the period from April 2008 through December 2009. All of these violations appear to be ongoing.

So, what does Massey have to say for himself? 

We'll find out tomorrow, beginning at around 1:00 p.m. ET. Stay tuned here for quotes and blogs from this event.

About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.