Meet Mr. Mining Disaster

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Photo: Haraz N. Ghanbari / AP

* By Clara Bingham The Daily Beast *

Even before the explosion in West Virginia that killed 25 of his company’s employees, Don Blankenship was a Hollywood-caliber villain. Clara Bingham on a coal executive with a seeming disregard for worker safety.

For the past five years, I’ve watched Don Blankenship like a hawk.

Several reporting trips to West Virginia’s devastated coal fields have led me to an irresistible and macabre fascination with the state’s richest and most politically powerful coal baron. Blankenship’s rags-to-riches story is colorful, and his belligerence is infuriating. Hollywood couldn’t have invented a better villain than this CEO of Massey Energy.

Massey has paid more in fines for worker-safety and
environmental violations than any coal company in the country.

For years he has shocked local environmentalists and mine-safety experts with his apparent disregard for the law, and now he is on the national stage at the center of the worst coal-mine accident in 25 years—the April 5 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia that killed 25 workers.

As rescue workers recover bodies and family and friends mourn the dead, outsiders who have not made West Virginia and its coal-heavy politics their hobby have begun connecting dots that draw a clear picture of Don Blankenship—with horns on top of his head.

Blankenship likes to portray himself as a rogue local mine operator with tough-guy hillbilly antics. When approached for an interview in a parking lot by an ABC camera crew, Blankenship pushed away the camera and threatened the crew with, “If you’re going to take pictures of me, you’re liable to get shot.” A Massey spokesperson, in response to a request for comment from Blankenship, said: “Mr. Blankenship is spending most of his time with the families and is not giving national media interviews right now.”

Of course, he’s proud of having been shot at himself, when he busted the unions in 1984, and he has a bullet-scarred TV in his office to prove it.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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