Coal Tattoo

The American flag and the Massey Energy Co. flags are seen at half staff, Friday, April 9, 2010, in Rock Creek, W.Va. The flags were lowered for those killed in an explosion at Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

In case any Coal Tattoo readers missed it, we ran a lengthy story in today’s Sunday Gazette-Mail about the environmental and worker safety problems in Massey Energy’s history — and about the way regulators, prosecutors and policymakers have responded to those problems:

Despite years of environmental problems and dozens of mining deaths, Massey and its corporate officials — including now-retired CEO Don Blankenship — have mostly escaped any serious, direct punishment.

... long before 29 miners died in an explosion a year ago Tuesday at Raleigh County’s Upper Big Branch Mine, Massey had its share of run-ins with the law. Inspectors doled out thousands of citations, and agencies levied millions in fines. Widows and injured miners sued. Citizens filed pollution complaints. In the past decade alone, at least four Massey subsidiaries have pleaded guilty to workplace safety or environmental crimes.

Still, regulators have almost always cited one of Massey’s maze of operating subsidiaries or independent contractors. Prosecutors squeezed section foremen or fire bosses into guilty pleas. Even personal injury lawyers who represented the families of miners killed at Massey operations generally ended up in court against a subsidiary several layers from Massey, or against one of the firm’s insurance carriers.

“Enforcement doesn’t reach into the boardroom,” said Davitt McAteer, a longtime mine safety advocate who ran the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Clinton administration and is conducting an independent investigation of the Upper Big Branch disaster.

The full story is here.