‘Coal king’ sentenced for the deaths of 29 miners — and you won’t believe what he got away with
Former coal mining CEO Don Blankenship was sentenced to on Wednesday for the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion that killed 29 men in 2010.
The sentence: just one year in prison, the maximum under the charge for which he was actually convicted — and handed down six years and one day after the event itself. U.S. District Judge Irene Berger also sentenced Blankenship to an additional year on supervised release.
“We’ve been waiting for this day,” Judy Jones Peterson, whose brother, Dean Jones, was killed in the blast, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “It’s been a long time coming.”
The prosecutor said Blankenship deserved the maximum sentence for valuing profits more than human lives.
“Breaking mine safety laws kills people. Breaking mine safety laws kills coal miners. The defendant placed human lives in jeopardy,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby on Tuesday.
Blankenship was found guilty this past December on one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to violate safety and health standards. He was acquitted, however, on the felony counts of securities fraud and making false statements to investigators. Those latter charges could have put him away for as long as 30 years.
In the aftermath of the disaster in April 2010 — the worst loss of life at a coal mine in the United States since 1970 — Blankenship’s company Massey Energy was eventually bought out. And for his part, Blankenship left the company with a $12 million golden parachute.
In a 2008 speech, he denied the existence of climate change, called environmentalism and conservation “absolutely crazy,” and linked those causes to “the communists and the atheists.”