Journalism in the Public Interest

Despite Mining Disaster, Report Says Coal Giant Massey ‘Has Not Changed’ and Execs Stay on


Chris Adkins, COO of Massey Energy, speaks during a press conference on April 8, 2010 in Montcoal, W. Va. after a fatal explosion at a Massey coal mine. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Buried within the damning report released yesterday on the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster that killed 29 workers last year were some interesting details about what could lie ahead for Massey Energy, its executives, and the safety of its operations.

The report, which was commissioned by West Virginia's former governor, noted that 18 current and former executives invoked their Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination and refused to cooperate with investigators. Nonetheless, investigators concluded that the preventable disaster was a result of a “total and catastrophic systemic failure” by Massey Energy.

“It is only in the context of a culture bent on production at the expense of safety that these obvious deviations from decades of known safety practices make sense,” the report said. It also noted that the company’s practices haven’t improved much—if at all—since the disaster occurred.

“More than a year after 29 men died in the Upper Big Branch mine, there is strong evidence that Massey has not changed the manner in which it operates its mines,” the report said.

Investigators said the coal giant had “used the leverage of jobs it provided to attempt to control West Virginia’s political system,” casting inspectors, regulators, and even politicians and community residents as enemies. According to the report, the company’s former CEO, Don Blankenship instilled fear in local politicians by spending “vast amounts of money to influence elections.”

As we have noted, Blankenship received $2 million when he retired at the end of last year, and is scheduled to receive another $10 million in July. He’s expected to stay on as a consultant.

Other top executives are faring just fine too, it seems. Shortly after Blankenship’s retirement, another company, Alpha Natural Resources, announced an agreement to buy Massey Energy, but Massey executives still scored some key management roles.

Notably, Massey’s Chief Operating Officer, Chris Adkins, will oversee Alpha’s main safety program along with another Alpha executive. According to the report, “Adkins’ history makes him a questionable choice to run a safety program. One need look no further than [Upper Big Branch],” investigators said.

NPR notes a few others:

Massey executives slated for the new Alpha management team include Shane Harvey, Massey's vice president and general counsel. He becomes senior vice president of legal in the new executive structure. Harvey has also acted as Massey's chief spokesman. Massey CEO Baxter Phillips "will continue on in a senior advisory capacity.

An Alpha Natural Resources spokesman told West Virginia Public Broadcasting that the company feels good about its vetting process of Massey employees.

Both criminal and civil investigations are ongoing—those will “undoubtedly” result in penalties against the company and its managers, the report said. So far, only one Massey official has faced criminal charges in connection with the disaster. He’s charged with lying to federal investigators.

The report also revealed that autopsies of the miners’ remains showed that most of them—even those with less than 10 years of experience in mining—had black lung, a deadly disease that’s preventable if coal dust is kept under control with the appropriate safety measures.

According to the report, the prevalence rate of black lung among miners is 3.2 percent nationally and 7.6 percent within West Virginia. It was 71 percent among the Upper Big Branch victims. (iWatch has more on this.)

Last month Massey informed the families of victims that come June 1, the company’s $3 million settlement offer will expire, NPR reported. The company warned: “Massey does not know and cannot predict what approach Alpha will take with respect to settlement” after the merger occurs.

Peter Anderson

May 20, 2011, 1:07 p.m.

Would it be possible for a follow-on article that explains how the laws in the U.S. permit, discourage, or disallow personal criminal charges in especially egregious cases such as this? Thank you.

This is a fine example of the type of country the Republican Neo Cons hope to see in my lifetime. Child labor,no limit on hours worked, no workplace safety,no minimum wage and on and on. This has been their hope for years,to undo all of the safety nets for we,the people and now that corporations are considered people without being held accountable,the dream of these anti Christian royalists is coming true. We,the people,must take control back!

Dick Brandlon

May 20, 2011, 1:30 p.m.

The entire culture of the United States is becoming a corpocracy wherein “citizenship” is composed of corporations, each having a share of participation depending on size and wealth.
Massey is an example of the logical extension of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United to consider corporations as people. Of course, these “people” can’t go to jail or -heaven forbid - face execution for, say, murder.

It won’t change till the people get rid of the now tepublicans, GOP, republicans and even real conservatives disappeared a few decades ago, off of the payroll till they fall behind ideologies for the Country and not the corporations and special interests and actually have ideals for serving the Country! that means no ability to obstruct, by numbers, legislation and especially no control over Any of the Branches of Government, especially Federal!! Clean up their own house then the people can rethink allowing them into office and on our payrolls!!

The no regulators give their handilers clear sailing in bad business and corporate responsibility!

Me being an OSHA whistleblower i understand why none of these workers came forward about safety.There is no whistleblower protection!

Dee L. Hoover

May 20, 2011, 3:57 p.m.

I don’t think Massey will worry a great deal. I am certain that they and others in the coal industry lobby have bought and paid for sufficient numbers in Congress who will find legislative ways of protecting them. Those wishing to protect the industry need only yell loudly about our need for “energy independence from “foreign” oil

“Anti-Christian?”  The irony is that those that comprise or back the GOP most vociferously are those that profess the loudest about being good Christians.

I agree with all of the commentary, though on a number of issues there isn’t a lot of difference between Democrats and the GOP.. 1) True conservatives and true Republicans died out a couple of decades ago.  There was more than one time when I could (and did) - gasp! - have voted for a Republican for president or some other office.  No more! 2) There are no whistle blower protections.

“On December 22nd… the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (Bill S.372) was killed ... when a mystery Senator placed ... a secret hold on the bill….

Bill S. 372 is designed to protect government workers from being punished (as they usually are) for exposing illegality, waste and corruption.”

Take the lobby money and apply it to the deficit. get it away from the corporate politicians, our votes mean nothing compared to the bribes, for it takes no time at all for them to loose their souls (campaign promises/lies) or patriotism (as if they are patriots) selling out the soul of this country for selfish and political gains. It’s a damn shame that politicians have found a way to circumvent the last paragraph of Section 9 / Article 1 of the Constitution. Our founding fathers would be up in arms over what we have turned this great undertaking of humanitarian justice and freedom into.

I think if one to check to see what the balance on the scales showed China versus USA , re democracy….all things considered,maybe favoring China.
....there are over 10,000 protests year in China…..i don’t see any in america..yet the coporates are poisining the soil,water and destroying the food supply., there is plenty out there to scream about.
The Chinese have 32 young engineers running the Central Committee, screaming ahead making pragmatic decisions about the future of 1.34 bil souls with out political gridlock (corporate coruption)

They way things look, I am giving the Chinese a chance and US of A no hope.

It’s all well and good to comment about an issue that needs the attention of citizens.  It’s even more important to ACTUALLY DO something significant that will allow necessary changes to be made to improve our country.

Here is a link that will interest many of you.


‘According to the report, the company’s former CEO, Don Blankenship instilled fear in local politicians by spending “vast amounts of money to influence elections.”’

Bear in mind that those activities took place before the Supreme Court stabbed democracy in the back with Citizens United.

Now what the wealthy and the corporations can do to ensure that killing American workers becomes a risk-free exercise in greed is virtually…limitless.

The big Massey justice, they have to merge to get out from under the name and their criminal negligence. This is all about jobs and until the people of W VA value each other, they will not get justice from the system. It is so easy for the gov and law makers just ignore the obvious criminality connected to this incident. There is no justice in this country for the victims of industrial murder and maim. Our Supreme Court sides with the criminal corporatists who sacrifice “others” look at Citizen’s United and Lily Ledbetter decisions. So, jobs mean more than life in W VA.

I have an idea . How about putting a bunch of the bastards in jail where they desperately need to be . These capitalist thieves are always yapping about needing incentives . I say lets give em some in the form of twenty or so years in a real prison , that might encourage their ilk to be a bit more careful in the future .

America rapidly approaching Third World conditions! Her “Glory Days’ of the “Cheap Oil Era” are over! Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs, Studebakers Desotos, Nash, Packards, never made it to the 4 cylinder, front wheel drive race at all! Where were our engineers? Just what in Hell were they doing with the fine lead we gave them in the automotive world? how cum we got useless, planned obsolescence “Muscle Cars” while Europe got Turbo-Diesel Mercedes? Why is Diesel fuel, without additives, cheaper, easier to refine, almost doubled in price in America? Who is screwing us now? What kind of corporatist bull Shiite caused this? The same psycho-sociology that keeps sociopaths at the top, leading the way with glib lies, intended to defer problems til after bonus time?  America’s Democracy, now riddled with corporatist, capitalist, cancer, dies as we speak, even with our once world renowned dollar, all undermined by robbers, thieves treasonists, all under the corporate umbrella, a protection device for criminality in America and on the world! Very sad indeed.

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