Four years ago, one of the worst coal-mining accidents in U.S history occurred. 3:57PM on April 5th, 2010, in Raleigh County, West Virginia, the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch coal mine located in Montcoal exploded and killed 29 of the 31 miners on site. In the year prior, the Mine Safety and Health Administration had issued 557 citations for violations, even going to the lengths of shutting down work in portions of the mine 48 times for noncompliance. And this mine wasn’t the only one with a record of safety violations. As NPR reported, four Massey mines had injury rates more than twice the national rate for that prior year. An independent report then was released to find that Massey Energy was directly responsible for the blast and that it was preventable.
Upper Big Branch Memorial Wreath. Photo credit: Flickr Paige Lealave Creative Commons
Then, just over three years later, former Massey Coal Executive, David Hughart, was sentenced to prison for 42 months for failing to follow basic safety practices that led to the disaster. While this justice is warranted, it is not enough. A corporation is an artificial entity. It exists only because we the people — represented by a state government — give it a charter. Just as we can grant that charter, we can also revoke it. Following the explosion, Free Speech for People, along with Appalachian Voices, the Rainforest Action Network, and CREDO, have called upon Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden to initiate court proceedings in Delaware to revoke Massey Energy’s corporate charter. While Massey has since merged with Alpha Natural Resources, that does not allow them to dodge accountability for its actions. As FSFP Co-Founder and Board Chair Jeff Clements puts it, “Massey represented to the US Securities and Exchange Commission that the Massey corporation would survive the merger as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources. Alpha itself is a Delaware corporation and is subject to Delaware corporate oversight. The Delaware Attorney General and Courts have responsibilities to ensure accountability to the people with respect to all of the Delaware corporate charters associated with Massey and Alpha, and these responsibilities do not end because the companies merged. In fact, this action would help ensure that Alpha Natural Resources, Inc. changes the culture of corporate deviance in the corporation with which it has merged.” A corporate charter is not a right, it is a privilege. When a company, such as Massey Energy, continues to violate the law, it should face the scrutiny of losing that privilege. Without accountability, without fear of repercussion, there is little incentive to change. Click here to sign the petition to revoke Massey Energy’s Corporate Charter. We hope that you will take a moment in silence today to remember the victims of Massey Energy. Our thoughts continue to be with the victims and their families as we move forward with the work of demanding accountability for the corporate criminal, Massey Energy, and seeking to prevent tragedies like this one from occurring again.
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