Don Blankenship, the coal company executive held responsible for the deaths of 29 miners in West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine explosion in 2010, has declared himself an “American political prisoner” now that he’s serving time in a U.S. federal prison.
“Give the man kudos for a stunt that got traction,” writes IEEFA Director of Media Relations Karl Cates.
Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, “conspired to violate mining health and safety standards in the run-up to the explosion that claimed those 29 lives on April 5, 2010,” Cates recalls. “That’s why he’s behind bars now, albeit for not that long a time or at that hard core a prison. Blankenship is already midway through his one-year stretch at Taft Correctional Institute, a minimum-security facility in sunny Southern California. He gets out in April.”
Poor, downtrodden Blankenship “was the best-paid U.S. coal-industry executive the year before the Upper Big Branch disaster, and when the mine exploded he was sitting on mountains of money,” Cates adds. “And apparently still is.”
Late last year, IEEFA’s Tom Sanzillo commented that “it seems a tad unfair that Blankenship—who is probably worth $100 million based on his Massey compensation over the years (if he’s worth less, he should find a new accountant)—be allowed to keep the largesse he has pocketed by risking worker health and safety.”
By playing the victim now, Cates comments, “Blankenship only adds the most vulgar of insults to the already unthinkable injury that came of his behaviour. He must think people have short memories, or perhaps no memories at all. And while his letter-from-prison salvo was a success by some measure—it got attention—time may preserve it eventually as one of the greatest unintended ironies in the history of convict spin.”
Booth Goodwin, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted Blankenship, noted that most political prisoners tend not to be “the leader of a conspiracy to promote lawlessness across an entire enterprise.”