Paul Tullis's Grim Tidings

Bitter musings on politics and policy

How about murder charges for the West Virginia mine CEO?

with 7 comments

The Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia where 25 (probably 29) people were killed, it’s been extensively reported, was the site of more than 400 safety violations in 2009. Bob Ferriter of the Colorado School of Mines, who trains miners and mine managers and has reviewed Upper Big Branch’s safety record, told NPR this morning that “To get that many violations…you’re letting a lot of things go.” He said that the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration reported repeated

‘unwarrantable failures’ [which] means that, from your experience and education, you should have known not to do something…and you ignored it, and you went ahead and did it anyway…A lot of operators put production ahead of safety, and that’s a corporate philosophy…They gotta have so many tons per dayand they’re gonna get it one way or another and if they squeeze the regulations and put somebody in jeopardy they’re willing to take that risk…They got kinda sloppy…To get that many violations…you’re letting some things go.”

The other day in Los Angeles, a truck driver who crashed his vehicle and killed two people in the process was charged with murder. He had previously been so charged, but the judge threw out the charge and let the man’s trial on manslaughter and reckless driving charges go forward. The driver is now serving time in jail under conviction for those charges, and a new judge has ordered that the murder charges be reinstated.

So if a truck driver can be charged with murder for totalling his big rig and killing two people of whose existence he was not previously aware, how about throwing Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship in jail for the rest of his life for the deaths of 29 people he employed? Blankenship was ultimately responsible for the fatal conditions in which these men were working; if he didn’t know of the violations per se, he should have directed, as a matter of policy, that any mine with “unwarrantable violations” be shut down until the problems are fixed.

How the fuck does an inherently dangerous workplace with more than one safety violation a day for an entire year stay open?

Speaking of which: Where was the Mine Safety and Health Administration in all of this? I’m not greatly mollified by the fact that Pres. Obama has ordered a report. Ooh! They have to give a report! I know first graders who’ve suffered worse consequences for their inaction. MSHA head Jospeph Main should suffer a worse fate than Michael D. “Heck of a job” Brown.

And Blankenship should be charged with murder. Maybe that will cut down on other mines operating with “unwarrantable violations.” Maybe if Blankenship or his underlings had acted differently, hundreds of West Virginians wouldn’t be going to bed tonight without their father, husband, or brother.

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7 Responses

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  1. Stop using coal powered electricity….if you really want to protest. Coal powers America because American’s allow it. Blame your fellow citizen for this accident….it’s not just the mine owner’s fault, but America’s.


    April 9, 2010 at 2:28 am

    • You are totally right! When I spoke with the head of the LA Dept of Water & Power last fall, a guy named Dave Freeman who has four decades of experience in US energy policy, he said the two most significant things a person could do to lower their carbon footprint is to drive a hybrid or EV and pressure their electric utility to acquire more renewable energy sources. Our collective laziness in this regard is killing us both directly, as with the Upper Big Branch preventable-accident, and indirectly with global warming.

      Paul Tullis

      April 9, 2010 at 12:11 pm

  2. Well, yeah, in a sane country someone like Blankenship would be brought to trial for negligent homicide. In fact, he would be in jail today. But this nation operates under the law of money, which is to say that the bottom line trumps all other lines, and that a rich man is at least worth the lives of two dozen poor men.


    April 9, 2010 at 12:21 pm

  3. Could “Corporate Personhood” Ruling Lead to Murder Charges?

    what do ya think? should it be tested with this disaster?


    April 9, 2010 at 7:33 pm

  4. Cultivating respect for the law among the general citizenry, a group that yields jurors in criminal and civil trials, seems especially difficult today, according to numerous prosecutors, judges and defense lawyers I’ve chatted with. Here is a big part of the reason why, based on conversations I’ve conducted with my relatives, friends, casual acquaintances, students and business connections: So many individuals seem above the law–especially decision makers in corporate suites who care so little about employes and customers if caring leads to lower profits.

    Prosecutors and judges sincere about increasing respect for the criminal justice system will bring lots more corporate chief executives into court, and extract meaningful plea agreements…or drag those privileged, isolated executives into courtrooms for open trials. Individuals who make deadly business decisions should not longer escape personal responsibility, and the corporate entities should be prosecuted as co-defendants.

    Steve Weinberg

    April 12, 2010 at 12:10 am

    • Agreed on all points, Steve. And as another commenter points out: if corporations are persons for the purpose of political participation, how about as culpable defendants for criminal acts?

      Paul Tullis

      April 13, 2010 at 3:21 pm

  5. Some years ago, when a South Korean shopping mall collapsed and killed a bunch of shoppers and workers because of faulty design, maintenance, and modification on the part of the mall’s owners, those owners were charged with and convicted of negligent homicide. Strange to think of South Korea as a saner country than America.

    On the happy side, there seems to be a bit of a shareholder revolt happening at Massey- that cretinous twerp might not be in the boss’s chair for much longer.


    April 13, 2010 at 4:34 pm

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