Is the notorious West Virginia coal boss Don Blankenship back in business?
There are new indications that Blankenship may be attempting a return to the industry that helped him build a massive personal fortune, but also tarnished his image as the man at the helm during the deadliest American mining disaster in decades. Twenty-nine men were killed in the April 2010 explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine. On Tuesday, the company that bought Massey agreed to pay a record $210 million fine to resolve the government's case against the firm. But what has become of Blankenship?
Kentucky state incorporation records show that scarcely a month after Blankenship agreed to step down as CEO of Massey Energy, he signed papers identifying him as the president of a newly-named company, McCoy Coal Group Inc. McCoy is the family name of Blankenship's mother.
The status of McCoy Coal and Blankenship's role with the firm remain unclear -- calls to the company's lawyer and to Blankenship's attorney have not been returned.
Blankenship accepted a $12 million golden parachute from Massey in December 2010. Upon his departure, he was eligible to receive an additional $5,000-per-month to serve as a Massey consultant for two years, paid health insurance, a secretary, residential property rights and accrued pay from his employment, including performance bonuses. As part of the deal, Blankenship agreed not to compete with Massey for two years and to cooperate with the company as it attempted to resolve litigation that arose during his tenure.
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) told ABC News Tuesday that he will be appalled if Blankenship is attempting a return to the mining industry.
"I would be stunned to find out that any state issued him a permit to run a coal mine," said Miller. "They're endangering their citizens if they do."
Miller said he thought Blankenship's record would not sit well "with the citizens of any state in terms of how you run a business enterprise, how you take care of your workers, how you take care of the families and the danger of which you place them in on an ongoing basis."
Miller's comments came as the new owner of Massey's coal mines reached the largest settlement ever in response to a U.S. mining disaster. The money will go to compensate grieving families, bankroll cutting-edge safety improvements and pay for years of violations.
Under the deal, Alpha Natural Resources -- which acquired the mine's owner, Massey Energy, earlier this year — will not be charged with any crimes in the April 2010 blast at the Upper Big Branch mine as long as the company abides by the settlement, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said. But the agreement does not prevent individual employees from being prosecuted.
"No individuals are off the hook," Goodwin told the Associated Press, adding that federal prosecutors are still investigating.