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Groups call for arrest of West Virginia mine CEO

By Daniel Tencer
Monday, April 12, 2010 11:40 EDT
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A coalition of NGOs who say they are fighting against the influence of the US Chamber of Commerce has called for the arrest of Don Blankenship, the CEO responsible for the West Virginia mine where 29 workers lost their lives last week.

In a press release on Monday, StopTheChamber.com said Blankenship was “as criminally culpable as any mass murderer” for the disaster at the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, because he had systematically worked to avoid safety regulations.

“This was not an accident, but rather the result of deliberate and intentional decisions and actions of Don Blankenship, a director of the United States Chamber of Commerce,” said Kevin Zeese, a founder of the liberal-oriented Velvet Revolution, which runs the StopTheChamber.com site.

“Blankenship, with the lobbying arm of the Chamber to back him up, has thumbed his nose at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, ignoring or appealing every violation, including the scores that resulted in coal mine evacuations and the hundreds of other serious violations,” Zeese said in a statement.

Zeese added, “As the Washington Post pointed out in a Saturday editorial, these 29 deaths would not have occurred absent this intentional conduct of Blankenship. He is just as criminally culpable as any mass murderer.”

On Friday, the New York Times reported that the mining industry has been able to skirt around an enhanced safety law from 2006 by filing multiple appeals against safety violation citations.

“Armed with tougher federal mining laws passed in 2006, federal investigators had new powers to crack down on mines with persistent violations,” the Times reported. “But mining companies have been able to fend off this tougher regulatory approach by challenging more of the citations filed against them.”

Among the groups supporting the StopTheChamber campaign include Democrats.com, Progressive Democrats of America, AfterDowningStreet, ePluribusMedia, BuzzFlash, the Center for Media and Democracy and the Yes Men.

On Saturday, the Washington Post used that fact as the basis for an editorial that asserted the mine disaster “could have been averted.”

Mr. Blankenship has been able to get around the tougher regulations implemented by the 2006 MINER Act by aggressively challenging safety violation citations. Unresolved challenges were part of the reason the Upper Big Branch mine was removed from the “potential pattern of violation” list in 2007. Had this not happened, the Mine Safety and Health Administration would have had the power to shut down the mine until the problems were fixed.

As Brad Johnson pointed out at ThinkProgress, Blankenship had a record of complaining about mining safety regulations.

Mining regulations are “very difficult to comply with,” Blankenship said in a 2009 interview. There’s so many of the laws that are, if you will, nonsensical from an engineering or a coal mining viewpoint. A lot of the politicians, they get emotional, as does the public, about the most recent accident, and it’s easy to get laws on the books that are not truly helping the health or safety of coal miners.”

StopTheChamber.com was launched in the fall of 2009 as a reaction to what many progressive activists saw as an increasingly negative role being played by the US Chamber of Commerce in US politics.

In its inaugural statement, the group said it was forming “to stop the US Chamber of Commerce from undermining health care, environmental protection, elections and big business regulation. The coalition is asking the Department of Justice to conduct a criminal investigation into illegal conduct by the Chamber and is demanding that Chamber CEO Tom Donahue be fired.”

The group’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. In December, following StopTheChamber taking out a “warrant” on Chamber CEO Donahue for $200,000, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh accused Velvet Revolution’s Zeese of an attempt “to dismantle the capitalist system and to criminalize those who are predominant in the free market, to criminalize their behavior.”

In its press release Monday, the group also called on all congressmembers to stop having contact with the Chamber of Commerce.

“The Chamber and its directors have now been directly implicated in the homicide of 29 workers,” the group said. “There can be no more business as usual.”

This video of a speech by Don Blankenship was snipped by Think Progress.

 
 
 
 
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