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Rodell: The villains responsible for the deaths of coal miners

May 7, 2010

Susanna Rodell, a former editorial page editor for the Charleston Gazette in West Virginia’s capital city, wrote in a column this week about her encounters with Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey Energy Co. Massey of course is the company that owns the Montcoal mine where 29 miners were killed last month.

Massey Energy Co. Chairman and CEO Don Blankenship (AP Photo)

It’s a good column, and worth the read to hear about the power and influence those in coal industry have in states like West Virginia and Kentucky. Rodell writes that a visit by Blankenship to the paper shortly after she became editorial page editor was telling, as the Massey CEO requested to have a weekly column in the paper.

From Rodell’s column, which appeared Wednesday in the Atlanta Journal Constitution

We didn’t do that. We told him we’d be happy to treat him as any other member of the community and consider any contribution to our op-ed page, but that we weren’t in the habit of handing out weekly space to anyone who asked for it. To him, I’m sure, it only seemed fair that he should have his own regular forum in the paper to “balance” the aggressive and dedicated reporting of our coal beat reporter, Ken Ward.

What I remember most about the encounter, however, was Blankenship’s quiet arrogance: He was clearly a man used to getting what he wanted and utterly convinced of his right to walk into the local newspaper and demand a forum. Once he figured out that wasn’t going to happen, we paid a price: He slapped the paper with a $300 million defamation suit. He lost the suit eventually, but it cost our little paper dearly in legal fees. And in the intervening time, he would ruin the career of a state Supreme Court judge who ruled against his company in environmental suits, spending millions to promote the election of an unknown lawyer who then ruled in his favor.

Give the column a read and share your thoughts. Particularly interesting is Rodell’s point that while the heads of coal companies might be painted as villains, the responsibility for the toll that coal mining can take on the lives of miners and on the environment falls also to those who flip the switch and enjoy the low cost of electricity.

From the column –

So yes, while the swaggering Blankenship deserves considerable blame, there’s another enemy in this story: the one we see in the mirror. The least we can do, as participants in this drama, is to remember who’s risking their lives to keep our lights on, and encourage our lawmakers to keep up the pressure on Big Coal and its enablers to clean up their act. Make sure they can’t hide behind the mountains any more.

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