Home Virginia Politics What Cooch Could (and Should) Be Doing About Massey

What Cooch Could (and Should) Be Doing About Massey

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While Virginia Attorney General Ken “Cooch” Cuccinelli wastes his office’s time and money on frivolous lawsuits against the federal government, appearances at Tea Party events, appearances at gun rallies, appearances on a panel a “faith healer,” etc., etc., here’s the type of thing he should be paying attention to.

Massey’s Tiller No. 1 mine in Tazewell, Va., had the company’s highest injury rate at 9.78 [injuries per 200,000 worker hours].

Priorities, priorities, I guess, not that this has anything to do with Cooch’s (non)allocation of time and resources.

So, I’ve been asking around to our elected officials regarding what Cooch can and should be doing about Richmond-based Massey Energy, as well as about its Tazewell, Virginia mine. Here’s what they had to say.

2009 Democratic AG Nominee Steve Shannon

“There’s a lot the Attorney General can do to make sure inspectors are ensuring compliance for laws related to mine safety and that bad actors in the market are punished. In addition, Commonwealth Attorneys are charged with prosecuting violations of the coal mine safety laws of Virginia.”

Donald McEachin

“Attorney General Cuccinelli certainly has the power to look at Virginia-based companies’ safety records within Virginia. Depending on where the safety violations take place, that will determine what course of action the Attorney General takes. There’s no doubt that the AG has the power of the ‘bully pulpit’ to speak out about companies like Massey. That’s precisely what the AG should be doing.”

Del. David Englin

“[I]f an activist AG can go after the EPA and Health Care Reform, he could go after Massey.”

Del. Albert Pollard

“The short answer: if there’s the political will to go after the Federal government…it’s certainly sounder reasoning to go after Massey than the federal government on healthcare reform. The Virginia AG has a fair amount of latitude and discretion to enforce environmental laws. If there are violations in the state of Virginia, the AG could definitely act.”

Del. Mark Keam

[E]very AG can decide if he wants to be more proactive and come up with creative ways to make himself relevant (as we already saw with Ken Cuccinelli and the gays memo, EPA and healthcare lawsuits, etc). I’m sure he can point to some specific statutory authorities that allowed him to intervene in these areas or at least make a colorable assertion that he has jurisdiction to take such actions.

Likewise, I have to assume there are some provisions of existing VA law that would give him the “hook” he needs to bring some sort of enforcement action against Massey, if he’s willing to be creative enough.  Or maybe someone can find such jurisdictions for him and suggest that he bring a suit using that statutory authority against Massey.  The existing statutes don’t necessarily have to be criminal.  They can be civil with enforcement penalties.

I’d look at consumer protection or environmental/safety regulatory laws to start.  I’d also look at federal environmental or mine safety laws to see if they provide for state enforcement as dual jurisdiction in addition to federal penalties.  Or maybe there are private rights of action created under federal law, in which case a VA constituent could ask the VA AG to intervene in his private lawsuit as a party of interest.

In short, the Virginia Attorney General has the power — certainly if he has the will and the creativity to use that power — at the minimum to speak out about and/or investigate Virginia-based Massey Energy for safety violations occurring within the borders of Virginia (such as at the Tazewell mine). The question is, why isn’t Cooch doing that?  As noted above, he certainly has plenty of spare time on his hands, so that’s not an excuse. Hey, for another “$350”, maybe Cooch could have his staff spend a few hours and look into Massey, preferably before a disaster like the one that took place in West Virginia occurs here in Virginia? Just a thought…

UPDATE: Great comment by Gretchen Laskas regarding Republican attacks on those who call for action against Massey. “The only people who think anyone is ‘capitalizing’ on the deaths of miners are people who wish those fighting for mine safety would just shut up.” So true.

  • You clearly think you can do a better job than Cuccinelli. I say go for it.  

  • linda b

    anyone could.

  • WestEndVoter

    Law firms don’t typically act unless told to.  Cooch is the head of Virginia’s law firm.  McDonnell is the head of the executive branch.  

    Lowell, I discussed the limited jurisdiction of the AG earlier — were you able to confirm/deny what I found?

    I am simply not convinced by the unsupported assertions of a few politicians.

    Primary responsibility seems to lie with the Federal Government, secondary authority seems to lie with the locality (Tazewell County, which has a Blankenship on the Board), then the head of the Commonwealth via state agencies.  In other words, McDonnell.

    –Rick

  • tx2vadem

    It has been my experience that you get better results working from the bottom up.  So, that would be starting with the elected officials in Tazewell County, the primary one being the Commonwealth’s Attorney there.  The Commonwealth’s Attorney doesn’t need a request from the DMME or its Division of Mines in order to take action (like the AG does).  The Commonwealth’s Attorney could do something now.

    The next place to go would be the Division of Mines within the DMME.  They would best be able to tell you what they are doing currently in regards to mine safety at that particular mine.  If you have a complaint about mine safety, they are also the people to notify.  Equally, if you didn’t know, all of the Division of Mines safety audit and accident investigation information is online and searchable.  At the same time, you could be going to MSHA which has the same authority just at the federal level.  I personally find that state and local workers provide quicker responses than federal agencies, but that is just my experience.

    I don’t know if anyone has talked to the miners in Tazewell, but they can call in unsafe conditions to MSHA and DMME.  DMME is required by law to investigate those complaints.

    I don’t understand starting with the AG though.  I would also think the GA members quoted here would be in a better position to hold Massey’s feet to the fire.  They after all can re-write our state’s Coal Mines Safety Act.  And if they really think the AG should be the starting point for this, they can amend the law to state that as it currently points to the Commonwealth Attorneys first.  If you really want someone to do something though, the people empowered to do something are MSHA, the DMME, and the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Tazewell.  I don’t know that you need a state executive to do anything unless you can’t get anything done with these people and/or you know they are not doing their job.  And if the problem really is safety regulation, well then those GA members are the right folks to address that at the state level.