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Massey CEO Unapologetic at Senate Safety Hearing

Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship remained cool and unapologetic over his company’s role in the Upper Big Branch disaster during last week’s Senate hearing on mine safety. Legislators in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services grilled Blankenship over his company’s safety record, as they attempted to determine what must be done to improve mine safety and enforcement following the worst mining accident in 40 years.

According to Blankenship, the 23 fatalities at Massey mines in the 10 years prior to Upper Big Branch were “about average.” “Massey does not place profits over safety,” he emphasized. “We never have and we never will. Period. From the day I became a member of Massey’s leadership team 20 years ago, I have made safety the number one priority.”

Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America contested Blankenship’s claims. “I can’t come up with another coal company that’s had 23 miners in 10 years die,” he testified. “This isn’t average. This is deplorable.”

“This is the worst fatality rate in the industry either way you look at it, either before the explosion or after the explosion,” Roberts said.

West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd was similarly unconvinced. “I cannot fathom how an American business could practice such disgraceful health and safety policies while simultaneously boasting about its commitment to the safety of its workers,” the senator stated. “This is a clear record of blatant disregard for the welfare and safety of Massey miners. Shame.”

Frustration was also directed at the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) – the federal agency that enforces safety in mines. The agency’s resources are useless, Senator Byrd argued, if MSHA is not “demanding safety in the mines.”

Click here to watch the full hearing

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