About a year ago in this space, I wrote a piece taking the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to task for its unhinged reaction to the Environmental Protection Agency’s then-nascent efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. As an example of the bombast, I included a link to a speech made by Chamber board member Don Blankenship, head of Massey Energy, in which he denied climate change, compared those who disagree with him with Osama Bin Laden and called them communists and atheists, accused environmentalists of “taking over the world,” and much more.
Apparently, such outrageous rhetoric doesn’t disqualify someone from being on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. You know what else doesn’t disqualify a coal industry honcho ? Operating a dangerous mine. It was in a Massey mine that 25 coal miners died earlier this week, after a methane explosion – the same mine, ThinkProgress notes, that had been cited for more than 3,000 safety violations in the last 15 years. Fifty-three of those violations were issued this past March.
The anti-regulatory crowd is fond of asserting that, left to their own devices, markets are self-correcting, and that abuses will be punished in the marketplace. The long history of mining deaths in the United States – more than 1,000/year through the first half of the 20th Century, then gradually down to about 30 a year between 2000 and 2005, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, and not counting black lung disease – argues otherwise, of course. But the argument persists. Perhaps the Massey disaster will test the theory.
It’s too soon to know what caused this week’s disaster – whether it was the product of Massey negligence or something else. But one thing we know for sure is that Massey’s safety record is, as the AP put it, “spotty.” And to think, until this week, Don Blankenship was best known for his political extremism.