Coal Tattoo

Massey board again defends Don Blankenship

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Gazette photo by Chip Ellis

While at least one member of the Massey Energy Board of  Directors has resigned in the wake of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, the board continues to issue statements of support for Massey CEO Don Blankenship.

Just a few minutes ago, the board issued this statement:

“The Massey Energy family continues to grieve for those lost in the awful tragedy at Upper Big Branch and remains fully committed to the safety of our members.  During times like these, a change in senior management is not appropriate or in the best interest of our members and shareholders; therefore, we want to emphasize that Don Blankenship has the full support and confidence of the Massey Energy Board of Directors,” said Admiral Bobby R. Inman, Lead Independent Director.

In a story in the Austin-American Statesman, Inman — a former Navy and CIA officer who teaches national security courses a the University of Texas — had this to say about the news media focus on Massey’s safety record:

“My anger level is pretty high for the disinformation pushed by unions,” he said. “I’m a political independent, but this is enough to make a tea partier out of me.”

The newspaper responded with an editorial that said, among other things:

The Massey mine that blew up April 5 was facing more than $150,000 in fines for safety violations stemming from more than 100 citations. Inman told the Statesman’s Asher Price that it is unions — unhappy about Massey’s non-union mines — that have stirred up trouble for the company. The board, he said, is not culpable.

Blankenship, according to Inman, “is without a question the best coal miner in the business.” That endorsement came despite the 2007 resignations of two Massey board members uncomfortable about Blankenship’s “poor risk management” and the firm’s “confrontational handling” of regulatory matters.

Those resignations came a year after a Massey mine explosion that killed two workers. The firm later paid $4.2 million in civil and criminal penalties as a result of that incident.

In 2008, Massey paid a $20-million settlement in response to Environmental Protection Agency allegations of thousands of Clean Water Act violations.

Charles Elson, a corporate governance expert at the University of Delaware, told the Statesman that boards like the one at Massey have “the responsibility to oversee the stewardship of the (environmental and safety) compliance program.”

Precisely.