Coal baron seeking Senate seat spent a year in prison for disaster that killed 29 miners

Natasha Geiling

Natasha Geiling Think Progress

Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy who recently served a one-year sentence in federal prison for conspiring to violate mine safety standards, has filed federal election papers to run for U.S. Senate in West Virginia.

The documents, first reported by Eyewitness News, specify that Blankenship will run as a Republican. Blankenship joins what is shaping up to be a contentious Republican primary, with West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) both having announced their intention to run. The winner of the primary will likely go on to challenge Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), whose seat is a major target for Republicans looking to gain an advantage in the Senate in 2018 (though Manchin will likely face challengers in the Democratic primary himself). The Cook Political Report has rated the race as a toss-up.

Unlike Morrisey and Jenkins, Blankenship will likely have a difficult time campaigning throughout the state. As part of his conditions of supervision, he cannot leave the state of Nevada, where he moved this summer, without permission from his probation officer or a federal judge. Blankenship’s supervision ends in May, two days after the Republican primary.

In 2010, an explosion in Blankenship’s Upper Big Branch mine killed 29 miners, the worst coal mining disaster in nearly four decades. Blankenship was convicted of a misdemeanor for his role in ignoring federal mine safety regulations, but was acquitted of three more serious felony charges. While serving his year-long sentence in federal prison, Blankenship released a 67-page booklet casting himself as an “American political prisoner.”

He has also released a video suggesting Manchin was responsible for helping the government cover up its responsibility for both the Upper Big Branch disaster and the 2012 attack on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

Blankenship has contended that the Upper Big Branch mine disaster was caused by a directive from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors to cut air flow to the mine in half the day before the explosion. Four investigations, however, found that the disaster was caused by worn and broken equipment that sparked and ignited accumulations of coal dust and methane gas. Blankenship had ordered Massey Energy to put safety improvements on hold, writing to one executive in 2008 that “We’ll worry about ventilation or other issues at an appropriate time.”

Blankenship asked the Supreme Court to hear an appeal of his conviction, which the court denied to hear in October of this year. Blankenship also asked President Donald Trump to review the investigation of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, and to oppose harsher punishments for coal supervisors who violate health and safety regulations.

Even before the Upper Big Branch incident, Blankenship was a vocal critic of federal attempts to strengthen safety regulations, saying in a speech in 2009 that the idea that politicians in Congress “care more about coal miner safety than we do is as silly as global warming.” Blankenship does not accept the scientific consensus on climate change, saying in 2008, “I don’t believe climate change is real.”

UPDATE: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Sen. Joe Manchin will need to win the Democratic primary in West Virginia before advancing to the general election.


Reposted from Think Progress

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work