Energy Report

Don Blankenship Sentenced and other news briefs

Date: April 15, 2016

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Don Blankenship sentenced

Following his conviction in federal court for conspiring to violate mine safety laws, the former CEO of Massey Energy was sentenced in April to one year in prison and a $250,000 fine, the strictest penalties the court was able to impose.

While Blankenship’s lawyers claimed that probation would be punishment enough, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby told the judge that “If ever a case cried out for the maximum sentence, this is it.”

The historic sentence was announced a day after the sixth anniversary of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in West Virginia that killed 29 miners and led to a federal investigation, civil penalties and the criminal convictions of four other Massey officials.

Family members of Upper Big Branch victims welcomed the news, including Judy Jones Peterson, who lost her brother and who described Blankenship’s courtroom apology as “too little, too late.” — Brian Sewell

Read more about the sentencing on our Front Porch Blog.

U.S. using less energy, global carbon emissions hold steady

Total electricity sales decreased last year in the United States, according to the Energy Information Administration. The agency lists energy efficiency, whether through market-driven improvements or government standards, as a significant factor in lessened electricity demand despite growth in the number of households and commercial buildings.

The International Energy Agency announced that for the second year in a row, carbon dioxide emissions from worldwide energy use did not rise with economic growth, but rather stayed relatively flat while the global economy grew. This breaks a relationship that had long been shown to be positively correlated. — Eliza Laubach

Atlantic Ocean spared from oil drilling

The Obama administration released its five-year plan for offshore oil drilling in March, announcing potential leases along the Gulf and Alaskan coasts but not the Atlantic Coast. The Department of Interior had proposed leasing a swath of the Atlantic coast, from Virginia through Georgia.

“When you factor in conflicts with national defense, economic activities such as fishing and tourism, and opposition from many local communities, it simply doesn’t make sense to move forward with any lease sales [in the Atlantic] in the coming five years,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in a press release. — Eliza Laubach

West Virginia bill shields businesses from citizen suits

Landowner rights groups and environmentalists say legislation passed by the West Virginia Senate would shield the oil and gas industry from “public nuisance” lawsuits filed by citizens due to lost property values or other negative impacts. Although the bill never passed the state House of Delegates, opponents worry that legislation to strip landowners rights and protect industry is likely to reappear during the next legislative session. — Brian Sewell

New research reveals mountaintop removal impacts on landscape

In the region of southern West Virginia where mountaintop removal occurs, the land is 40 percent flatter than it was forty years ago, a Duke University study shows. Published in January in Environmental Science and Technology, the study compared topographic data and assessed how changes in the landscape affect water quality. The scientists found a correlation between the total volume of displaced rock and concentration of pollutants. — Eliza Laubach

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