Dec. 7, 2010
As Blankenship Resigns, Public Citizen Calls on New Massey CEO to Improve Workplace Safety Standards
Statement of David Arkush, Director, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division
Public Citizen welcomes the announcement that the CEO of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, will retire at the end of this month. Although his leadership of the company was disastrous in numerous ways — from environmental catastrophes to record fines to extreme hostility to unions — he will be remembered for presiding over the worst mine disaster in decades.
The explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in April killed 29 workers and painfully demonstrated the need for better enforcement of mine safety laws. Blankenship refused to learn any lessons from this disaster, instead continuing to aggressively push for increased production over worker health and safety.
Blankenship’s tenure as CEO has been criticized by Massey shareholders and directors. Prior to the Upper Big Branch disaster, shareholders had complained that Massey’s board of directors was unable to exercise control or oversight of Blankenship. After the explosion, shareholders wrote that the disaster was “the tragic consequence of the board’s failure to challenge [Blankenship’s] confrontational approach to regulatory compliance.”
In 2007, two members of Massey’s board of directors resigned, charging that Blankenship’s “confrontational handling of environmental and regulatory matters” had hurt the company’s reputation and created a “‘Blankenship Discount’ in the market price for Massey’s shares,” as quoted in the resignation letters of Daniel S. Loeb and Todd Q. Swanson.
After the Upper Big Branch disaster, Public Citizen launched a petition and website chronicling Blankenship’s and Massey’s actions and calling for Blankenship’s ouster. The petition garnered more than 6,200 signatures. We are pleased that Massey will begin the new year with new leadership and hope that the new CEO will seek to improve the company’s safety, environmental and labor practices. We will continue to monitor Massey to see if this happens.
To read Public Citizen’s petition, visit: https://www.citizen.org/our-work/health-and-safety/articles/fire-corporate-scofflaw-don-blankenship. To see Public Citizen’s work on mine safety, visit: https://www.citizen.org/our-work/health-and-safety/articles/mine-safety.
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.