‘The Dark Lord of Coal’

Don BlankenshipIf I have one regret about rejoining the fight in Appalachia now, it’s this: I’m coming back too late to help get rid of this scumbag. Don Blankenship “resigned” as CEO of Massey Energy late last year, a week after Rolling Stone published this devastating profile. I doubt the two events were related. Massey shareholders had been growing increasingly restless with Blankenship’s Snidely Whiplash routine and, as the federal investigation into the Upper Big Branch mine disaster heated up, his departure was all but inevitable.

Still, the profile was powerfully damning. It revealed Blankenship’s true self: the ruthless reincarnation of a 19th century coal baron. Blankenship didn’t hesitate to utterly destroy anyone who stood in the way of profit – whether it was unions or competing coal companies. He used any means possible, up to and including buying a seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court – an act so brazen it led to an unusual U.S. Supreme Court decision forcing the Supreme Court justice installed by Blankenship to recuse himself in a $50 million lawsuit against Massey.

The article’s conclusion nicely summed up the tragedy of Blankenship’s life story: “Given his local roots and his business acumen, he might have helped West Virginia turn toward the future and imagine itself as something more than a landscape to be raped and pillaged by greedy industrialists. Instead, he has become just another coal baron, a symbol of all the worst impulses of American capitalism.”

Blankenship stepped down and Massey is being sold to Alpha Natural Resources. Everything won’t suddenly be right in West Virginia as a result, of course. But it will be just a little righter.

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