People v. The Coal Baron

West Virginia — In 2010, a disastrous coal mine explosion at the Upper Big Branch facility claimed the lives of twenty-nine miners. An independent report investigating the blast found Massey Energy directly responsible for its neglect. Massey’s parent corporation agreed to criminal and civil penalties, but such recklessness deserves harsher penalties than a fine or a slap on the wrist.

The Report of the Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel (the “Report”) concerning the April 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine explosion and deaths describes in more than 100 pages how Massey repeatedly placed profits ahead of worker safety and compliance with the law, and has a long history of criminal and civil violations of law.

Driving Massey Energy’s aggressive growth and misconduct, is former CEO Don Blankenship. Blankenship’s “quasi-dictatorial management style as chief executive produced spectacular results for Massey.” During his tenure as CEO, Blankenship elevated Massey Energy from a modest business to a multi-billion dollar corporation, and the sixth-largest coal company in the country. Various accounts tell of Mr. Blankenship spending millions of dollars to thwart the efforts of politicians and judges that he saw as threats against his free-market and anti-regulatory views.

Federal prosecutors found the deadly explosion resulted from Massey cutting corners on important safety measures, and last November a grand jury indicted Blankenship on four criminal counts. The counts include conspiracy to violate mine safety standards and conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials. If convicted, he could face up to 31 years in prison.

The people of West Virginia hailed the indictment as a major breakthrough.

Although the charges against Blankenship mark a shift in improving mine safety and accountability, Massey Energy got off easy.

Revoking Massey Energy’s corporate charter in Delaware is a way to hold the corporation accountable for its lethal neglect.

A corporation is an artificial entity. It exists only because we the people — represented by a state government — allot a charter. Just as we the people can grant that charter, we can also revoke it. Most major corporations in the U.S., including Massey Energy, are legally based in Delaware. To revoke a charter, the state of Delaware must take action.

In 2011, Free Speech For People, Appalachian Voices, and Rainforest Action Network delivered a petition with 35,000 signatures calling for Massey’s corporate charter to be revoked.

With increasing consequences of unrestrained multinational corporate power in America, corporate charter accountability is more important than ever. Individuals, like Don Blankenship must be brought to justice for their actions, but corporations should not be let off the hook.

To learn more about our initiative to revoke Massey’s corporate charter, click here.
Watch the video below to find out more about our Model Corporate Charter Revocation Act.

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