Top executives of the Massey Coal Company, which was blamed in an independent investigation last week for the deaths of 29 miners, are claiming that the U.S. government has conspired against them ever since the deadly explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine last April.
The charges by Massey executives are included in court papers filed by a Massey shareholder suing the firm and in lawsuits against the firm by trustees of two separate union pension funds.
All three sets of papers, according to the United Mine Workers, contain allegations of a government conspiracy against the company made by retired Admiral Bobby Inman, a former deputy CIA director and Massey Board chairman and by now-retired Massey CEO Don Blankenship.
The two claim that the federal government, all the way up to and including President Obama, is conspiring to shut Massey down.
When the deadly blast occurred last year, the company called it “an act of God.”
Several days after an independent investigation released last week by former federal mine administrator Davitt McAteer found the company to blame, Massey responded that emissions of natural gas beyond its control, not dangerous levels of coal dust, were the cause of the deadly blast.
The union pension funds suing Massey are the California Teachers Retirement System and the New Jersey Laborers Building Fund.
Trustees of the teachers’ fund are trying to stop the sale of Massey to a larger firm, Alpja Natural Resources. The trustees feel the fund’s investments are being hurt because Massey, due to its safety violations, is being given away to Alpha dirt cheap while its fleeing executives rake in huge cash bonanzas as pert of the deal.
The Laborers pension fund is suing Massey for $25 million, claiming that while the company’s directors let managers get away with deadly safety violations they were busy pocketing huge amounts of cash.
The lawsuits seek to stop the sale of Massey to Alpha on June 1 because the terms include an $86 million golden parachute for Blankenship and millions of dollars in severance for other Massey execs.
Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers union, blasted the contention by Massey executives that there exists a government conspiracy against the company.
“The notion advanced by Massey Energy Chairman Bobby Inman that there is some grand secret ‘conspiracy’ to put Massey out of business is as nutty as the prediction the world would end last Saturday,” said Roberts, who has long been a leader in the effort to take on the company for its safety violations.
“No one ever needed to do anything extra to find gross violations of safety, environmental and labor laws at Massey operations. The company demonstrated over and over again that it was fully capable of creating those problems all by itself,” Roberts declared. Lat week’s report confirms his position, he said.
Roberts said that Massey’s CEO should take some of the money he is making off the sale deal and use it to improve mine safety.
“Now that Mr. Inman stands to get paid $4.9 million from Alpha Natural Resources as part of the outrageous payments Alpha is giving disgraced Massey executives in the companies’ merger, maybe he now can afford to spend a little money visiting mining operations that are actually operated safely and where the working relationship between management and workers is one of respect instead of one of intimidation of and contempt for workers,” Roberts said.
“Don Blankenship, who created the safety-last culture of fear and intimidation at Massey, is going to get $86.2 million? Chris Adkins, the chief enforcer of Blankenship’s reign of darkness, gets $11 million? Let’s remember, both of them have invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in the Upper Big Branch investigation,” Roberts noted.
Roberts said the golden parachutes and big cash bonuses for the CEOs were “unconscionable. What are these payments for? 29 miners are dead at Upper Big Branch. 54 human beings have been killed at various Massey operations and subsidiaries in the last 11 years, the most of any company. Massey continues to have the worst safety record of any American coal company.
“Why on earth would anyone want to reward the people who ran Massey for their outlaw behavior? And why, in the face of all this, would Alpha shareholders agree to allow these payments and the employment of some of these individuals to be part of any merger of the two companies?” Roberts asked.
Company claims that natural gas, not safety violations, were the cause of the deadly blast have been consistently challenged by miners.
“Miners testified that the rock dusting was inadequate in an ongoing basis at this mine,” McAteer said when he released his report last week. “The footprint we found underground is a footprint of methane and coal dust – not a footprint of natural gas.”