The Center for Responsive Politics has an important post about the campaign donations of Massey Energy, the company that owns the West Virginia coal mine where at least 25 miners were killed in a methane explosion on Monday. There is still faint hope that some survivors might be saved; this should indisputably be the focus of attention right now. But there is also a political dimension to the story.
The vast majority of Massey's federal campaign donations go to Republicans -- no surprise, since Republicans are dead set against climate change legislation that might begin to tamp down our country's addiction to dirty coal energy. Massey's CEO, Don Blankenship, has taken to lecturing Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi about climate change, saying, according to the Washington Post, that they "don't know what they're talking about." In this sphere Massey's actions can at least be understood, from the point of cold corporate calculation, and ignorance.
But Massey also has a long history of safety violations, including 50 in March at the deadly Upper Big Branch mine. And it's also dead set against allowing more of its workers to unionize, preventing workers from standing up for their own safety. The Upper Big Branch is a non-union mine.
If Massey Energy's name sounds vaguely familiar to you, there may be a good reason. Just a few years ago their CEO played a critical role in a cynical -- and halfway successful -- scheme to put the company's very own judge on the West Virginia Supreme Court, where they had a case pending. Again from the Washington Post:
[Blankenship] has also thrown his weight around West Virginia, shelling out more than $3 million of his own money for ads to help defeat a West Virginia state Supreme Court justice. Blankenship expected the justice to rule against Massey in an appeal of a $50 million award for a small coal company owner, who convinced a jury that Massey had driven his company into bankruptcy. The new judge cast the deciding vote against the $50 million award. The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled that the new judge should have recused himself.
While of course Monday's devastation was an accident, accidents have causes, and at this preliminary point it's not irresponsible to ask if Massey's abysmal safety record at the Upper Big Branch had something to do with the explosion. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has received $13,550 from "people and PACs associated with Massey Energy," according to the Center for Responsive Politics. This is not a company America's leaders -- the ones tasked with writing our mining and climate change laws -- should be doing business with. Senator McConnell should return all of that money.