Coal is big business in West Virginia. It is also dangerous work.
In 2010, a mining disaster cost the lives of 29 men at the Upper Big Branch Mine (UBB) in Montcoal, West Virginia. The non-union mine was owned by Massey Energy, whose CEO Don Blankenship was dubbed the ‘Dark Lord of Coal Country’ because he routinely cut costs by scrimping on safety measures.
His decision to put profit in front of people was the reason 29 workers never made it out of the mine according to a 43-page indictment.
Blankenship “knew that UBB was committing hundreds of safety-law violations every year and that he had the ability to prevent most of the violations that UBB was committing,” the indictment read. “Yet he fostered and participated in an understanding that perpetuated UBB’s practice of routine safety violations, in order to produce more coal, avoid the costs of following safety laws, and make more money.”
Now, it seems Blankenship had donating his ill-gotten gains to West Virginia Republicans through PAC funds to help prevent more stringent safety measures from being enacted in the state, all with the help of his Congressional friends.
According to WV Dems, in 2012 Blankenship, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and Rep. David McKinley “poured nearly $100,000 in a PAC” to help defeat WV Democrats working to improve conditions for WV miners.
Capito has also received money direct from Blankenship in the past.
While out-of-state PAC funds and so-called ‘dark money’ have made it difficult to know just how much Blankenship’s funds have been used by Capito recently, her voting record while in the House seems to side with Blankenship’s ‘industry first’ views.
The incoming West Virginia Senator voted four times while in the U.S. House to cut the number of federal mine and safety inspectors working to make certain regulations are being kept.
Most notably, Capito was also the only West Virginian to vote against the Byrd Act, a bill proposed by late Senator Robert Byrd in a direct response to the Massey disaster, and one that would make sure CEO’s like Blankenship are not allowed to flagrantly disregard safety measures again.
Photo Credit: Congressional Photo