Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Don Blankenship ON TRIAL: How We Got Here: Events Leading Up to Today

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Don Blankenship ON TRIAL: How We Got Here: Events Leading Up to Today

Article excerpt

The story of Don Blankenship's criminal trial starts many years before, in the mid-1980s. Blankenship was running A.T. Massey Coal's Rawl Sales and Processing unit, in Mingo County. He led the operation through a bitter strike by the United Mine Workers union. Blankenship called himself "the most hated man in Mingo County, but said the UMW had "gotten too powerful and that it was "time people realized they don't have to be slaves of the union any longer.

Massey emerged from the strike as a mostly non-union company.

Within a decade, Blankenship was CEO of the company and was helping to build it into a major regional coal producer.

Through the 1990s, with low-sulfur Southern West Virginia coal in high demand, Massey was among the pioneers pushing mountaintop removal mining and was consolidating large blocks of coal previously mined by union firms.

By 2000, Massey had gone public and Blankenship's economic and political power was continuing to increase.

West Virginia politics and coal production

Blankenship began using his personal wealth to try to push his own political agenda, which called for less government interference in the way his company ran its coal mines.

In 2004, he spent millions of dollars of his own money to defeat the re-election bid of a state Supreme Court justice he viewed as hostile. Two years later, he spent millions more trying to engineer a Republican takeover of the West Virginia Legislature.

The Supreme Court candidate who benefited from Blankenship's spending, Brent Benjamin, would later cast a deciding vote between Massey and independent coal operator Hugh Caperton. The U.S. Supreme Court later threw out that verdict, ruling that Benjamin should have recused himself.

Justice Spike Maynard also recused himself from that case after pictures surfaced of him on vacation with Blankenship in the French Riviera.

Miner safety and the environment

Massey's record on worker safety and environmental protection was a constant issue under Blankenship's leadership. …

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