After spending a year in prison on charges related to one of the nation’s worst mining disasters, former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has taken to TV to plead his innocence. In a series of television ads running in West Virginia, Blankenship, who was convicted of conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards, is now blaming the Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) for the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster that killed 29 miners.

"The truth has been hidden"

“Because the MSHA likely caused the UBB mine explosion, the truth has been hidden for over seven years," says Blankenship on his website. “The commercials in the "For the Sake of Coal Miners" series are being released now and in the coming months to provide the catalyst for a scientific versus political investigation into what happened at UBB. When the truth is exposed, many safety improvements will be identified. Untruths and politics have no role in improving mine safety.”

Multiple federal investigations concluded that the UBB disaster was preventable, and that Massey Energy Co. promoted and enforced a workplace culture that valued production over safety, leading to poor equipment maintenance that allowed a small pocket of methane gas to ignite, setting off a powerful coal dust explosion.

Blankenship claims the explosion was caused by an underground gas leak.

A travesty of justice

United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts called the ads “a desperate, low-life attempt to once again shift the blame for a decade of death, destruction and despair at Massey Energy while Blankenship was CEO...The fact that he only served a year in prison remains one of the greatest travesties of justice that I have witnessed.”

“The primary reason there was enough coal dust available to allow this to happen was because Massey Energy’s subsidiary, Performance Coal, failed to adequately ventilate the mine, failed to remove excess coal dust from the mine and failed to adequately rock dust the mine,” said Roberts.

The ads follow a series of tweets Blankenship has issued in an effort to clear his name, many of them aimed – like the TV ads – at former MSHA chief Joe Main and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). “Manchin must tell the truth about UBB — for the sake of miners,” one ad says. 

Blankenship contends that his concern is for the safety of miners: "Senator Joe Manchin says he is unwilling to criticize MSHA; that he had not heard that the UBB explosion was a natural gas explosion; and that he does not have the facts. So long as all this is true other miners are at a greater risk of losing their lives to another natural gas catastrophe."

UMWA’s Roberts sees things differently.

“It is appalling that he continues his despicable attempt to shift the blame from himself, each time ripping open the painful wounds the families of the victims will suffer forever,” said Roberts. “Although Don Blankenship may not have received the proper punishment in this world, those families can rest assured that he will receive it in the next.”