Don Blankenship had it all. The West Virginia coal baron had all the baubles of personal wealth, absolute control over his corporate subordinates and workers, and unmatched political power that extended through every branch of state government and deep into the back rooms of Washington policy-makers. In the house of Big Coal, Master Blankenship was Lord of the Manor.
But soon, Don might be moving into an even bigger house — as in "The Big House." The former boss of Massey Energy is currently on trial for intentionally neglecting mine safety laws, conspiring to cover up the violations, and effectively causing an explosion of methane and coal dust that killed 29 miners in Massey's Upper Big Branch mine in 2010. It was the worst mine disaster of modern times, and in a rare turn of events for the corporate world, the boss himself has now been brought before a jury of common West Virginians to answer criminal charges that could put him in prison for 31 years.
This is no mere formality. Already, four of Blankenship's top assistants have been convicted for criminally risking the miners' lives, and federal prosecutors have testimony, documents and tape recordings revealing that the CEO himself was "plainly cheating" on rules to protect workers. Blankenship bares his soul on one tape, declaring that it's okay to demand that miners increase production of coal at the expense of their own safety, for "This game is about money."
Quite a few other gamers ought to be in the dock with Don — George W. Bush, for example, and the bipartisan bunch of Congress critters who took Big Coal's campaign cash in exchange for defunding, denigrating and discouraging federal regulators who dared to stand up to Lord Blankenship. Those for-hire political fixers are co-conspirators in Massey Energy's corporate murders.
Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit jimhightower.com.