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Audio, Video Interview with “Thunder on the Mountain” Author; Trailer ...

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Jeff Thomas, author of "Virginia Politics & Government in a New Century, The Price of Power" (see my review here) -- a book that...

“The Dark Lord of Coal Country” to Retire; the Damage He...

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Cross posted from Scaling Green, a project of the people at Tigercomm. Note: I am now consulting for Tigercomm, located in Rosslyn, VA, and helping "cleantech companies, advocacy organizations and government leaders" to "tackle the big, high-stakes challenges they face in promoting clean energy and sustainability." I'm excited to be working with Tigercomm, which has also done work for Virginia Democratic political campaigns like Steve Shannon's in 2009. Check them out!

Late last week came word that Don Blankenship CEO of Massey Energy, the largest coal producer in central Appalachia - will retire at the end of this year. You may recall that Massey owns the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, where 29 miners were killed back in April, the worst coal mining accident in the United States since 1970.  The Upper Big Branch disaster was far from an isolated incident.  In fact, Massey has a long history of environmental and worker safety violations going back many years. In the aftermath of the Upper Big Branch disaster, one of Massey Energy's largest shareholders called on Blankenship to resign immediately, citing the company's "cavalier attitude toward risk and callous disregard for the safety of its employees has exacted a horrible cost on dozens of hard-working miners and their loved ones."

That would all be bad enough, but unfortunately there's much, much more.  In this video, for instance, listen as Blankenship declares, "I don't believe climate change is real."  Then there's the current Rolling Stone magazine's brutal expose on Blankenship, which calls Blankenship "The Dark Lord of Coal Country" for having "destroyed the region's mountains, polluted its waters and overseen the worst mining disaster in 40 years." According to Rolling Stone, Blankenship "is a rich hillbilly who believes that God put coal in the ground so that he could mine it, and anyone - or any law - that stands in his way needs to be beaten down, bought off or tied up in court."

The Coal Industry/Government Revolving Door

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The Pittsburgh Post Gazette recently reported on what it called the coal company waltz. "More than 200 former congressional staff members, federal regulators and retired lawmakers are employed by the mining industry as lobbyists, consultants or senior executives, including dozens who work for coal companies with the worst safety records in the nation."

The "waltz" simply isn't the dance of former legislators onto K Street or into corporate suites. In the last decade, industry officials have also gotten jobs on staffs in Congress and at the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), which is supposed to enforce safety standards.

An argument can be made that persons with expertise in a field of endeavor are necessary in order to understand how to regulate an industry. However, the danger of serious conflicts of interest are obvious, and it appears that the situation at MSHA was an example of a conflict of interest gone terribly wrong.

It was a 30-year veteran executive of the coal industry, Richard Stickler, that George W. Bush nominated to head the MSHA in 2006. That was not a good appointment if you are a miner, nor was Bush's earlier appointment of David Lauriski.

Stop Blaming Mine Explosions on Explosive Mine Safety Violations!

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No, really. That's what Virginia conservative bloggers are actually saying today. Watching them try to deflect attention away from the West Virginia mine explosion tragedy's cause is like watching the wedding scene from Monty Python & the Holy Grail. Let's not bicker & argue about who killed who!

Why should we rush to judgment that there could've been wrongdoing involved? Just because the mine that blew up was cited for safety violations for this exact problem just last month?

A huge underground explosion blamed on methane gas killed 25 coal miners in the worst U.S. mining disaster in more than two decades. [...]

The mine, about 30 miles south of Charleston, has a significant history of safety violations, including 57 infractions just last month for (among other things) not properly ventilating the highly combustible methane.

And because that same mine has had over 3,000 safety violations & over $2.2 million in fines? And because Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has explicitly told his underground mine superintendents that production trumps safety?

Coal mining is a dirty, deadly business. To pretend otherwise is to approach "Heckuva Job Brownie" territory.