Who is Holding the Bag?

According to the Mine Act, the only person who is to be held responsible for the failure of safety provisions that should have protected the 29 men who died in West Virginia when their mine exploded this week are the supervisors. The rank and file foremen who keep the mine “running coal.” The guy in charge of safety at the mine might be held liable, but that’s as far up the chain of command as it gets.

Don Blankenship, the CEO, who a few years back made it clear to his staff in a memo that the business of Massey was “running coal,” not building safety systems, is not responsible. He earns millions a year and his company has enough extra money to spend $14 million a year on lobbyists and in one election a couple of years ago spent $3 million to buy a judge in a West Virginia election. Blankenship’s minions who also make bongo bucks and have direct authority over implementation of policies and procedures are not responsible under the law.

The members of the board of directors who are paid at least $200,000 a year to attend meetings and rubber stamp the policies of Mr. Blankenship (who is also on the Board), are not responsible. These people include:

  • James B. Crawford, former chairman and CEO, James River Coal Company
  • General Robert H. Fogelsong, retired four-star general, U.S. Air Force
  • Richard M. Gabrys, former vice chairman, Deloitte & Touche
  • Admiral Bobby Inman, former director, National Security Agency
  • Barbara Lady Judge, chair, United Kingdon Atomic Energy Authority
  • Dan R. Moore, chairman, Moore Group, Inc.
  • Baxter F. Phillips Jr., president, Massey Energy
  • Stanley C. Suboleski, former commissioner, Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration
  • I should also add here that up to a year ago, Ohio State University President Gordon Gee was a board member. Gee, who earns cose to $1 million a year from OSU, was forced to resign after the people of Ohio wondered what he was doing taking money from a company that was removing all the mountaintops in West Virginia.

    It is a testament to the political power of coal that two legislative enactments intended to improve the safety of work in the coal fields specifically hold low level employees liable for actions that are largely prescribed by policies from the top. In no case do the laws point at the company or the board of directors, which is charged with setting policy and should be responsible for the general operation of the business.

    I don’t think this is going to get any better.

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