Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship served jail time after 29 of his workers died due to his willful negligence. Now he wants a senate seat.
In April 2010, the Upper Big Branch explosion was recorded as the worst mining-related disaster in 40 years, with 29 workers dying due to poor ventilation and faulty water systems. A criminal investigation after the explosion found that Blankenship’s Massey Energy (which Alpha Natural Resources bought not long after the disaster) alerted company staff ahead of federal inspections so they could cover up safety violations prior to inspectors’ arrival.
In 2015, a jury convicted Blankenship on one count of conspiracy to willfully violate safety standards. Blankenship argues it was the Mine Safety and Health Administration — not Massey — that was responsible for the disaster. Blankenship was sentenced to one year in jail and fined $250,000. In a 67-page screed, Blankenship maintained his innocence, calling himself a “political prisoner.”
On Wednesday, WCHS-TV in Charleston broke the news that the former Massey CEO will run against Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) in the 2018 midterm election as a Republican. He will face off in the Republican primary with U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-West Virginia) and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
Sen. Manchin is one of the most conservative Democrats in the senate, having been one of only two Democrats to confirm Scott Pruitt — President Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — in February. As Governor, Manchin sued the Obama EPA over environmental protection rules put in place for coal mines. He’s also recently hinted that he would vote for Trump’s tax bill if Republicans were willing to negotiate with Democrats over some of the finer details.
Manchin’s conservative positions have attracted a primary challenger as well. Paula Jean Swearengin — a daughter and granddaughter of coal miners — is running against him in the Democratic primary on a platform of transitioning West Virginia’s economy away from coal.
Scott Alden is a freelance contributor covering national politics, education, and environmental issues. He is a proud Toledo University graduate, and lives in the suburbs of Detroit.