Massey Energy Co.: Bad for Workers, Bad for the Environment

Coal consumption has costs — this week’s explosion at a West Virginia mine, which killed 25, made that clear. Those costs aren’t limited to human lives, either. Massey Energy Co., the owner of the West Virginia mine, has not just racked up safety violations but also consistently disregarded the environmental effects of its work.

Black marks on Massey’s record

This week’s explosion is far from the first debacle associated with a Massey project, and past incidents have had disastrous impacts on the environment. In 2000, a break in a Massey-owned reservoir, filled with coal waste, caused more damage than the Exxon Valdez spill, Steve Benen writes at The Washington Monthly. Clara Bingham described the flood of sludge for the magazine in 2005:

“The gooey mixture of black water and coal tailings traveled downstream through Coldwater and Wolf creeks, and later through the river’s main stem, Tug Fork. Ten days later, an inky plume appeared in the Ohio River. On its 75-mile path of destruction, the sludge obliterated wildlife, killed 1.6 million fish, ransacked property, washed away roads and bridges, and contaminated the water systems of 27,623 people.”

A year later, another 30,000 gallons of sludge poured into a river in Madison, WV, “with nary a peep from Massey,” Kevin Connor points out at AlterNet.

The company routinely scorns environmental regulations, too, as Andy Kroll reports for Mother Jones:

“Between 2000 and 2006, Massey violated the Clean Water Act more than 4,500 times by dumping sediment and leftover mining waste into rivers in Kentucky and West Virginia, the EPA said in 2008. (Environmental groups say the EPA’s tally is a lowball figure; they estimate that the true number of violations is more than 12,000.) As a result of these breaches of the law, the company agreed to pay the EPA a $20 million settlement.”

It appears that prior spills have not chastened Massey, either. Brooke Jarvis at Yes! Magazine notes that the company stores 8.2 billion gallons of coal sludge in the same West Virginia county suffering from this week’s explosion, and that two months ago, “West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection issued a notice of violation because the dam failed to meet safety requirements.”

Don Blankenship, denier!

Massey’s owner, Don Blankenship, has as dark a record as his company on environmental issues. Blankenship believes in the “survival of the most productive,” Mike Lillis writes at The Washington Independent, which means that safety and environmental concerns come second. He “loves to slam ‘greeniacs’ for believing in things like climate change,” says Nick Baumann at Mother Jones. The Colorado Independent’s David O. Williams calls Blankenship “a notorious right-wing climate change denier and outspoken critic of the policies of ‘Obama bin Laden,’” and notes that Blankenship is on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has tried its hardest to squelch any climate legislation eking through Congress.

Methane and mountaintop removal

Although Massey and Blankenship stand out for their scorn of the environment, all coal production extracts a cost. Accidents and violations like Massey’s can devastate forests and streams, but coal’s biggest environmental impact comes when it is burned and pours tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As Yes! Magazine’Jarvis puts it, “Coal may be cheap now, but that’s simply because we’re not counting—and don’t even know how to count—the long-term costs.”

The Obama administration has taken some steps towards limiting coal production. Last week the EPA announced restrictions that would limit mountaintop removal mining. But those regulations won’t ban the practice altogether. The Senate could, in theory, take up that task: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)  introduced a bill a year ago that would make mountaintop removal mining so expensive it would be economically infeasible, effectively banning the practice, Mike Lillis reports for The Washington Independent. Although the bill accrued a few more sponsors during 2009, mostly liberal Democrats like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), it hasn’t attracted much attention and is still sitting in the Environment and Public Works Committee.

In the Mountain West, the Bureau of Land Management is opening up federal lands for coal mining and claiming it can’t require companies to flare off or capture methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, David O. Williams reports for The Colorado Independent. Without methane capture, the new mines would pour carbon pollution into the atmosphere. This BLM stance, Williams writes, has green advocates in Colorado “longingly reminiscing about the bygone days of the Bush administration,” which said it would require companies to manage methane.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. 

photo credit: thanks to thewritingzone via flickr for the great image of Drax, a coal-fired power station in North Yorkshire, England
By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger


Steve F.
steve F.5 years ago

Massey Energy is the devil incarnate....

Sexy T.
Sexy Teoh6 years ago

Save our earth, save ourself and save the new generation. Thank you.

Vivien Green
Vivien Green6 years ago

Another case of a Company (like Chevron) running roughshod over our ecology.
These companies are unconscionable, and environmentalists have to keep petioning to get these companies named and shamed and try to get them to take responsibility for their total disregard of our eco-system and the damage they have done .

Rebecca Lee
Past Member 6 years ago

i mean weren't*

Rebecca Lee
Past Member 6 years ago

i can't believe they were held accountable for those spills!

Sexy T.
Sexy Teoh6 years ago

Please help to protect our earth. Thank you.

Gwendolyn Krupa
Gwendolyn Krupa6 years ago

Massey is surely a villain. Maybe we should petition the president to look into the matter and see that justice is finely served. I hope he is shut down!

Mark C.
Mark Connelly6 years ago

I am a resident of WV and have watched Mr. Blankenship destroy our state for years. He pays for football games, picnics, supports visible activities, while paying into the election funds of corrupt state supreme court justices, blowing away mountain tops, polluting water systems, endangering schools, and the lives of his own workers. He is an evil villain that has been terrorizing Appalachia with his power, and greed. The political system is corrupt, if Massey can be allowed to operate in this manner. If you are a citizen of WV, please elect people that can resist the immoral practices of big dirty coal. This issue should be addressed by the entire region both on a state and federal level.

johan l.
paul l.6 years ago

second comment:
The poll is ambiguous.
The people that voted "no" are either in agreement with this monster (which I do not for one moment believe) or -and more likely- they are aware of what he is doing but have made peace with a monster that destroys the environment!

johan l.
paul l.6 years ago

Is there no legislation that could drag Blankenship before court?
The choking photograph could well be in S.Africa where all electricity is generated by coal-fired power stations (apart from the one nuclear power station at Koeberg in the Western Cape).How is it possible that one man however "rightwing", wields so much power.
Come on mr. Obama, do something about this Mr. Filthy!