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Massey Gets Away With Murder: Time To Revoke their Charter

$209 million isn't enough. Revoke Massey's corporate charter.

The following article first appeared on the Web site of the Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for its email newsletters. 

Yesterday, Alpha Natural Resources, the parent company of Massey Energy, agreed to pay  $209 million in criminal and civil penalties, and compensation to the families of twenty-nine miners killed by an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia last year.

But for  Free Speech for PeopleAppalachian Voices and the  Rainforest Action Network, a financial settlement and admission of criminal liability simply isn’t enough. The groups have renewed their call for Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden to  revoke Massey’s corporate charter.

In a joint statement the groups said, “A financial settlement, even for hundreds of millions of dollars, is just not enough to prevent corporations like Massey from abusing their enormous power over our lives. Alpha earned $2.3 billion in the last quarter alone. It is simply not acceptable for corporations to buy their way out after criminally killing people.”

Below is my post earlier this year regarding the tragedy at the mine and the campaign to revoke Massey Energy’s corporate charter.

* * *

It was Easter Weekend 2010 when 33-year-old  Gary Quarles—a skilled miner with fourteen years experience and a father of two— and an “up and coming” miner, Nicolas McCroskey, 26, were having dinner with a friend. They said that “something bad was going to happen” at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine where they worked.

That Sunday, Quarles also confided in a close friend he’d known since childhood.

“I’m just scared to go back to work,” he said. “Man, they got us up there mining and we ain’t got no air. You can’t see nothing. I’m just scared to death something bad is going to happen.”

The next day, a powerful explosion tore through two and one-half miles of the mine, killing Quarles, McCroskey and twenty-seven of their fellow miners. Men like Carl Acord, 52, who had worked the mines for thirty-four years and was a proud member of the “Old Man Crew”; Jason Adkins, 25, who had won all-state honors in football and basketball in high school; Cory Davis, 20, who had followed his family into the mines; US army veteran Steven Harrah, 40, devoted to his wife and 6-year-old son; Dean Jones, 50, leaving behind his wife and a son with cystic fibrosis; Roosevelt Lynch, 59, a miner for more than thirty years and a substitute teacher, as well as a basketball, football and track coach; Vietnam vet Benny Willingham, 61, a coal miner for thirty years who was five weeks away from retirement; and so many more.

Of the twenty-nine men killed, nineteen died as a result of carbon monoxide intoxication and ten as a result of injuries suffered in the explosion.

One week later, former Governor Joe Manchin asked J. Davitt McAteer, an assistant secretary of labor in charge of mine safety in the Clinton administration, to conduct an independent investigation into the causes of the disaster and issue recommendations to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

McAteer and his colleagues—experts in coal mining, mining law, mining communities and occupational safety and public health—released their report last month after conducting underground investigations for over six months and conducting more than 300 interviews. Eighteen corporate officials from Massey Energy and its subsidiary Performance Coal—which ran the UBB mine—invoked the Fifth, declining to be interviewed in order to protect from self-incrimination.

Although it received insufficient media attention, the 126-page Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel (GIIP) report released last month is damning in its conclusion: “Ultimately, the responsibility for the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine lies with the management of Massey Energy. The company broke faith with its workers by frequently and knowingly violating the law and blatantly disregarding known safety practices.”

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