Republican candidate Don Blankenship issued a statement ahead of the eighth anniversary of the Upper Big Branch mine tragedy that claimed the lives of 29 miners who worked for him -- and resulted in a yearlong prison term for him.
Blankenship, the former CEO of coal company Massey Energy, is running for the U.S. Senate in West Virginia after serving his sentence for violating mine safety laws, and he invoked the slain miners to help boost his GOP campaign.
"There is no way I can personally express the sorrow and heartbreak I felt when I first learned of the tragedy sometime near 4 p.m. that day," Blankenship said. "My expression of regret, sorrow, and condolences to the families of the miners has never been enough for several of the families, and I understand that. And it is also not enough for me to say 'sorry.'"
Blankenship has urged President Donald Trump not to consider legislation that would permit harsher punishment for coal mine supervisors for health and safety rule violations, and he blamed legislators for failing to enact new rules to prevent another disaster like the one he presided over.
"My goal today is the same as it has always been," he said. "That goal is to honor these lost miners by using lessons learned from the accident to prevent other miners and families from ever experiencing such a tragedy again."
The disgraced coal executive insisted he began those safety efforts immediately after the April 5, 2010, explosion, and he argued that he pursued those efforts at the cost of his own reputation.
"Based on what I was advised by experts in forensics, by mine ventilation experts, and by experienced coal miners, I formulated specific mine safety enhancement recommendations more than three years ago," Blankenship said. "I then provided those recommendations to all of our federal government representatives."
He then suggested his indictment was a political attack by the incumbent Democratic senator he's hoping to unseat in November.
"In response to these recommendations, Senator Joe Manchin insisted that I be indicted, and so I was," Blankenship said. "But even from a prison cell, I continued the effort to defend the miners and produced a booklet, which among other things, provides in layman’s terms the explosion expert’s opinion as to what caused the explosion."