Blankenship To Testify Before Congress: The Dark Saga Continues

Its been over a month since the Upper Big Branch Mine, a Massey Energy owned and operated mine, faced a disaster due to a methane related explosion that took 29 miners lives. It was a dark day for the state of West Virginia, the coal industry, and the entire country. To West Virginians, and even those not from the state, these fallen miners will be in our hearts forever.

Don Blankenship is the current Chairman, CEO, and head right-wing gun-toting thug in charge of Massey Energy. Massey is currently the 6th largest coal company in the United States by production. Blankenship, to most people, is seen as cold, dark, and very mysterious. If you need further convincing, watch this ABC News video of one of their correspondents attempting to evoke an interview from Blankenship. The video shows the ABC News rep wanting to ask Blankenship about pictures published in the New York Times of him with Former WV State Supreme Court Judge and Current Republican nominee for WV 3rd Congressional District Eliot "Spike" Maynard. Maynard was elected to the Supreme Court in WV.

Several news outlets have begun to report that Don Blankenship will testify this Thursday before the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) Committee regarding the April 5, 2010 mine explosion in Raleigh County, West Virginia .

Mine blast: Don Blankenship, the head of Massey Energy Co., testifies before a Senate panel investigating the explosion that killed 29 workers at his company’s coal mine in West Virginia.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle’s SF Gate

Blankenship, 60, plans to appear before the Labor and Health and Human Services subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, on May 20 in Washington, his first appearance before Congress since the explosion.

Massey said last month that it expects a second-quarter charge of as much as $212 million for the accident, more than twice its 2009 earnings.

The costs will include $80 million to $150 million for benefits for families of the miners, rescue and recovery efforts, insurance deductibles, legal and other contingencies, Massey said. The value of the damaged equipment, development and mineral rights is an additional $62 million.

Source: Businessweek.com

With the pieces still being picked up in rural West Virginia, Blankenship has a slew of problems on his hands. Massey Energy has seen its stock slump since the disaster (big shocker there) and he is constantly being questioned about the incident and his lack of care for safety violations and hazardous working conditions. It has seen a -21.7% change YTD with their stocks recently plummeting 10% after a possibility of a criminal investigation was mentioned, and 40% since the disaster.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Shares of Massey Energy plunged about 10% Monday after a report surfaced over the weekend indicated the coal mining company may face a criminal investigation.

Federal prosecutors are investigating possible "willful criminal activity" by "directors, officers and agents" of Massey subsidiary Performance Coal at the Upper Big Branch coal mine where an explosion killed 29 workers last month, The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

A Bloomberg report on Monday claimed that some large Massey shareholders will seek to block the re-election of three company board members at the meeting.

Another report by the Wall Street Journal on Monday said a congressional committee will vote on Wednesday on whether to give the House Education and Labor Committee deposition power to call witnesses in for questioning on the case.

Massey shares have fallen about 40% since the mine explosion on April 5.

Source: CNN Money

More interesting news for Massey Energy, in what seems to be an effort to obtain transparency in lieu of shady business, as they have now declared that they will declassify their board of directors. This according to the Wall Street Journal, the board is proposing to introduce the idea to shareholders etc. and potentially even make the process more democratic.

Massey Energy Co. said its board plans to propose that directors stand for election every year for one-year terms.

Chairman and Chief Executive Don Blankenship and lead independent director Admiral Bobby R. Inman said the move to declassify the board of the coal producer was a result of stockholder input and the board’s ongoing review of Massey’s corporate governance policies.

A classified board, where classes of directors generally are elected for three-year terms and only a portion of the directors stands for election each year, is harder to dislodge through the shareholder meeting process.

The board plans to hold a special shareholder meeting in the next three to six months where it will propose that stockholders approve declassification.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Blankenship has seen his fair share of controversy, as I have detailed in several previous blogs in wake of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, and this proves there isn’t an end in sight. Blankenship, amidst numerous calls to step down and many claims of injustice and fraud, refuses to forgo his position as CEO of Massey. Its hard to tell whether this is simply Blanky trying to play a game and manipulate his business further, saving his butt from criminal allegations, or just plain stubbornness. My personal opinion? He needs to step down. Futher even, he needs to be criminally indicted. Too often, CEO fat cats like Blank are left alone to ravage whatever gets in their way in the holy name of money.

Massey Energy chief executive Don Blankenship, whose Richmond-based company is under investigation after a deadly explosion at its Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, said he has no plans to resign.

"Whatever happened at UBB is something that needs to be figured out, but it’s not the result of my management style," Blankenship, 60, said in an interview.

From The Washington Post, as reported by Bloomberg

An end is not in sight for this ongoing Blankenship conundrum, which can be seen as good news and bad news. I want resolution. I hope that one day this man will receive the proper justice brought to him, not on a silver platter, but closer to a penitentiary meal tray.

He doesn’t represent the values and culture of Appalachia, he represents the coal industry and corporate greed. I for one will not stand for this. The question still remains, will the people of Congress and those in higher powers finally grow a pair and do something about corrupt and greedy tycoons like Blankenship? Or will they let this case slither away like a cunning snake, deep into the elusive tall grass it will await yet another prey who is unbeknownst to their presence.

 

Tags: Congress, New York Times, coal, CNN, Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, West Virginia, Wall Street Journal, Upper Big Branch Mine, Appalachia, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, WV STATE SUPREME COURT, WARREN MCGRAW, WEST VIRGINIA 3RD CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT, RALEIGH COUNTY WEST VIRGINIA, PERFORMANCE COAL, MONACO, ABC News, san francisco chronicle, Spike Maynard, SENATE HELP COMMITTEE, stock (all tags)

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