How do coal barons get away with murder?

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Courtesy of Jim Hightower

Coal mining is a filthy business. Literally.

Miners not only get covered in the soot of their trade, but also suffer the suffocating death called “black lung.” The industry explodes mountaintops, contaminates mountain streams and drinking water, and causes both acid rain and climate change. Then there are the murders.

Oh, they’re not called murders, but, intentionally sending workers 1,000 feet underground into poorly-ventilated tunnels filled with explosive methane gas and coal dust, without providing proven safety equipment, amounts to signing a murder contract with the Lord of the Underground. That’s what Don Blankenship did as CEO of Massey Energy. Recklessly pushing profits over safety, he oversaw the corporate murder of 29 West Virginia miners in the predictable horror of an enormously violent detonation deep inside Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in 2010.

Now, at long last, Boss Blankenship has been convicted and sentenced in federal court. Not for murder, though. Under our nations’ feeble Mine Safety Act, killing 29 workers is a misdemeanor, and the “punishment” handed down to this multimillionaire corporate crime boss was merely one year in jail and a $250,000 fine!

Such soft-on-crime leniency is not the fault of the jury or judge. They did the most with what the law allows for punishing industrial criminals. In fact, Blankenship is the first mining CEO ever convicted of conspiring to violate safety protections for miners. Rather, our corrupt, corporate-serving congress critters are to blame. Key lawmakers have taken millions of dollars in campaign donations from barons like Blankenship in exchange for reducing corporate murder to a misdemeanor.
The filthiest thing about Big Coal is its immoral use of filthy political money to let its bosses literally get away with murder.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.