U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin has set an example for every prosecutor in the country by indicting Don Blankenship, the venal, punitive, flamboyant, and reckless former CEO of Massey Energy. For years, Blankenship demanded updates on coal production every two hours and, the indictment reveals, browbeat senior managers to cut cost and violate crucial safety. In one handwritten note, he told one such target, “You have a kid to feed. Do your job.” When the Upper Big Branch mine exploded, propelling flames at a speed of 1,000 feet/second in all directions from the point of ignition as far as two miles underground, Massey was directly responsible for the root causes of the tragedy. The families of the 29 men who died can take some solace that this courageous prosecution, by a prosecutor from coal country, takes the strongest possible stand to protect miners from the most reprehensible kind of greed.
Steinzor is the author of the new book, Why Not Jail? Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction, published by Cambridge University Press.