Dark Corporate Backstory to West Virginia's Mine Tragedy

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>Investigators have yet to uncover the source of the explosion at West Virginia's Upper Big Branch coal mine, which has killed 25 miners and left four still missing. But the blast takes place after the mine logged hundreds of safety violations in the past year.

Upper Big Branch is owned by Massey Energy, one of the nation's biggest coal companies, and operated by Performance Coal, a Massey subsidiary. Massey is run by Don Blankenship, a CEO Rolling Stone pegged as "a villain ripped straight from the comic books: a jowly, mustache-sporting, union-busting coal baron who uses his fortune to bend politics to his will."

Blankenship has helmed Massey through an accumulation of safety and water pollution violations as well as disastrous toxic coal spills. One of the country's most recent major disasters occurred at Massey's Aracoma mine, also located in West Virginia. A group of miners were trapped in a fire and two did not survive.

Between 2003 and 2006, the New York Times reported, Blankenship spent over $6 million in an attempt to boost Republican representation in West Virginia, a state traditionally dominated by Democratic and labor interests. In 2008, photos surfaced of Blankenship carousing in the French Riviera with a West Virginia Supreme Court justice who was trying a case against Massey. A year later, the justice voted in Blankenship's favor. 

Massey curries no favor with environmentalists. It is the industry leader in the environmentally devastating and recently restricted mountaintop removal mining method. Blankenship has also lent his mustachioed jowls to the climate denial fight from his seat on the board of the Chamber of Commerce, where he has helped direct the lobbying group in its well-coordinated and lavishly funded assault on climate science

Blankenship's Twitter account is a pithy log of his climate denying sentiments -- "skeptical" would be too gentle a word -- including the tongue-in-cheek Tweet, "We must demand that more coal be burned to save the Earth from global cooling."

He has yet to Tweet anything about the mine explosion.

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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