Donald Blankenship, the coal baron who tried to buy himself a judicial appointment to duck liability judgments, and who was the CEO of Massey Energy at the time the Upper Big Branch mine collapsed, is on trial.
In what can only be called a friendly twist of fate, Blankenship may be convicted on the strength of his own words, preserved in self-made recordings of every conversation he had. His attorneys have been fighting to keep the recordings out of evidence, but the judge has allowed several to be played for the jury.
Via the New York Times:
The tapes offer a peek into the mind of a man seemingly consumed with his own wealth and frustrated with federal regulators and company officials who pushed for more attention to safety. The prosecution hopes to offer three more recordings, but on Thursday, defense lawyers asked Judge Irene C. Berger, who is presiding over the case, to block them.
In one conversation, Mr. Blankenship complains that Massey’s top safety official is too concerned with “the social aspects” of her job: “You’ve got to have someone who actually understands that this game is about money.” In another, he frets over a confidential internal safety memo — central to the prosecution’s case — that warned, among other things, of poor ventilation at mines and said Massey was “plainly cheating” in sampling coal dust, a health hazard and a fire accelerant.
He worries how things will look if Massey is sued. “If that was a fatal today, or if we had one,” Mr. Blankenship says, an apparent reference to an accident, “it’d be a terrible document to be in discovery.”
Discussing inspectors from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, he complains that they pay too much attention to black lung disease, caused by excessive coal dust exposure. (Autopsies would find that 71 percent of the 29 miners killed at Upper Big Branch suffered from black lung, compared with an industry average of 3.2 percent, according to a 2011 state inquiry that attributed the blast to “a failure of basic coal mine safety practices.”)
“The truth of the matter,” Mr. Blankenship is heard saying, “is black lung is not an issue in this industry that is worth the effort they put into it.”
What a bastard. I hope they lock him up and toss the key.