Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship Indicted for Deaths of 29 Coal Miners
For decades, big coal companies have violated mine safety regulations with at most a slap on the wrist, while spending millions to lobby and electioneer for weakening those regulations. Now the chickens have come home to roost for one former coal company CEO as a federal grand jury in Charleston, West Virginia indicted former longtime Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship yesterday on charges that he deliberately flouted safety standards leading to the death of 29 miners in an April 2010 explosion at its Upper Big Branch Mine (UBB), reports the Charleston Gazette.
"Blankenship knew that UBB was committing hundreds of safety-law violations every year and that he had the ability to prevent most of the violations that UBB was committing," the indictment said. "Yet he fostered and participated in an understanding that perpetuated UBB's practice of routine safety violations, in order to produce more coal, avoid the costs of following safety laws and make more money."
"Throughout the indictment period, Blankenship also conspired to defraud the United States by impeding the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration in carrying out its duties at UBB," it continued. Following a major, fatal explosion at UBB on April 5, 2010, Blankenship made, and caused to be made, materially false and misleading statements and representations, and omitted and caused to be omitted statements of material facts, regarding his and Massey's practice of willful violations of safety laws at that mine. These included materially false statements and representations made to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission and materially false statements and representations, and materially misleading omissions, made in connection with the purchase and sale of Massey stock."
The grand jury found that failure to provide adequate airflow, coal dust accumulation and an inadequate number of mine safety workers were among the factors contributing to the explosion that were routinely ignored by the company. The accident was the worst mining disaster in the U.S. since 1940 and followed a long record of health and safety violations at the mine. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) later issued 369 citations for safety violations and assessed a $10.8 million fine. The indictment charges Massey with three felonies and one misdemeanor with a potential of 31 years in prison for the former CEO who led the company for almost two decades.
“It’s an important day for many, many families in the Central Appalachian coal fields,” Bruce Stanley, a Pittsburgh attorney who has fought Blankenship on behalf of miners’ widows and a rival coal operator who alleged Massey drove him out of business, told the Charleston Gazette. “For the first time in my memory, the CEO of a major coal producer is being held criminally accountable for the atrocious conduct that occurred on his watch.”
The indictment details threat after threat made to mine management to ignore safety in order to maximize profit.
One such charge says, "On or around April 29, 2008, Blankenship sent the known UBB Executive another handwritten message chastising him for not producing coal as quickly as Blankenship wanted at one of the mines in the UBB mining group. This message instructed the Known UBB Executive, 'Run coal. Don't bolt for the year 2525.' This message was an instruction to increase coal production by devoting less time to the installation of roof bolts, which were a form of roof support." He charged another with "'insufficient attention to cost-cutting," and told him "You have a kid to feed. Do your job."
The investigation of the explosion has already led to the convictions of four former officials at UBB which was sold in late 2010 to Alpha Natural Resources. But Blankenship, who retired following the sale, is the really big fish. He was a major power broker in West Virginia politics who among other things helped engineer the election of a friendly supreme court justice prior to a case involving the company coming before the court.
Blankenship was typically arrogant and unrepentant. His attorney issued a statement saying, "Don Blankenship has been a tireless advocate for mine safety. His outspoken criticism of powerful bureaucrats has earned this indictment. He will not yield to their effort to silence him. He will not be intimidated.”
The response on the Facebook page of nonprofit community advocacy group Appalachian Voices was exultant but skeptical. Posters called him "a murderous, callous lowlife" and said "It's a multi-headed snake, but at least one just got lopped off," while also saying "The party that wants to get rid of OSHA was just given a lot of power to do just that by the same people that these companies are killing."
"Don Blankenship once boasted to me that it was impossible to conduct mountaintop removal mining without violating the law. He prided himself on his cold-blooded capacity for turning America's purple mountains majesty into coal company cash. His criminal mind allowed him to view the human beings of Appalachia as disposable production units. He is a sociopath and gangster who's gift was felonious greed and a stone-cold heart that allowed him to put his yearning for money and power ahead of human lives. Those qualities had great value to his friends and investors: the Wall Street robber barons. But they were poison and destruction to the noble communities of coal country. We can't bring back the towns he destroyed, the lives he took, the mountains he flattened, the rivers he poisoned, but there is some consolation in knowing that he's getting what he deserves: three hots and a cot and long days in the company of fellow criminals of lesser appetites and lesser distinction."
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Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
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