(Image via Huffington Post)

Over a decade before the Big Branch mine explosion, Massey Energy had committed more than 63,000 violations of mine safety laws, and violated the federal Clean Water Act 13,000 times. Three years after the explosion, CEO Don Blankenship was indicted, but Massey still operates in Delaware.

Free Speech For People’s Jeff Clements writes to the Huffington Post:

“Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. once described Massey Energy, a global coal corporation now part of Alpha Natural Resources, Inc., as a “criminal enterprise.” Now, it appears that the United States Attorney and a federal grand jury in West Virginia agree with that assessment. Last month, Massey’s former CEO, Don Blankenship, was indicted on federal conspiracy charges for which he could go to prison for 31 years.

This rare moment of CEO accountability is welcome and long overdue. At same time, though, the Massey story illustrates the collapse of corporate accountability and the rule of law, not only in West Virginia, but at the heart of our American corporate legal system.

The federal indictment in West Virginia alleges that Blankenship ruled a criminal enterprise at Massey, knowing and approving of the corporation’s “practice of routinely violating” mine safety laws. The grand jury charges that Blankenship and his co-conspirators at Massey “chose to continue that practice … to maximize profits.” As a result of the illegal conspiracy in the corporation, twenty-nine men died in an April 2010 explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.

The Blankenship indictment alleges a specific “conspiracy to routinely violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards to increase Massey’s profits, and to enrich” Blankenship himself. Yet, the 835 violations of law identified in the indictment are only the tip of the criminal enterprise at the coal corporation.

A 2011 independent investigation after the Upper Big Branch explosion found a “normalization of deviancy” throughout Massey’s operations. Over a decade before the explosion, Massey had committed more than 63,000 violations of the mine safety laws. At the same time, Massey violated the federal Clean Water Act 13,000 times. Scores of mountains in Appalachia and miles of mountain streams were destroyed in Massey’s mountaintop removal coal operations.

According to the independent investigation, Massey used “vast amounts of money to influence the political system,” and to disable “government regulation regarding safety in the coalmines and environmental safeguards for communities.” Massey’s immunity from the law provided what the Investigation report called “a graphic illustration of the intertwining of coal and government….”

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