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Don Blankenship, political prisoner?

Bloomberg/Getty Images

The former CEO of Massey Energy is serving a year in prison for conspiring to violate federal mining safety regulations. According to a Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) investigation, Blankenship’s negligence directly contributed to the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion, which killed 29 West Virginia miners in 2010.

But in a 67-page booklet released from California’s Taft Correctional Facility today, Blankenship maintains his innocence—and claims he’s a victim of government persecution:

Essentially I am in federal prison because [Assistant United States Attorney Steve] Ruby believes that the UBB mine should have had a few more miners, and that not having those miners caused safety violations to occur. ... Politicians put me in prison for political and self-serving reasons. I am an American Political Prisoner.

It is not clear why Blankenship thinks that admitting he overworked his miners will vindicate his reputation, but vindication is clearly what this is all about. He even has a shiny new website. All of it may be summarized as follows: Don Blankenship is the real victim here, and never forget it if you love freedom. As for that pesky explosion, shit happens. Why blame him?

But MSHA answered this question a long time ago. We should blame him because it is his fault. People are dead because of the way he ran his mines.

It is possible he never really thought about this before because his management practices sit well within a tradition established by previous coal bosses. It is common for coal companies to disregard existing safety practices: A 2014 NPR-Mine Safety and Health News investigation found that 2,700 mine company owners collectively owed about $70 million in fines for various safety violations. Delinquent companies also had injury rates approximately 50 percent higher than companies that complied with federal standards. Behind the numbers, there are ruined lives.