Posts Tagged ‘mining’


Don Blankenship, the chief executive of the Massey Energy Company in 2010 when a fire in the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 miners—who should have been charged with murder but was earlier only convicted of a federal misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate mine safety standards and was sentenced by U.S. district judge Irene Berge to one year in prison and fined the maximum of $250,000—has just issued a 67-page diatribe (pdf) in which he declares himself an “American political prisoner.”

In the booklet, Blankenship asserts, contrary to all evidence, that the explosion was triggered by natural gas, and not unsafe mining conditions; politicians imprisoned him for political, self-serving reasons; and he has a long history of working to advance the safety of coal miners.

In a statement to The Associated Press on Wednesday, former U.S. attorney Booth Goodwin called the booklet “more Blankenship propaganda.”

“Blankenship was convicted by a jury of his peers of willfully violating mine safety laws-laws designed to keep miners safe,” said Goodwin, who brought the case against Blankenship. “They are the same laws that if broken, cause deadly mine explosions like the one that tragically killed 29 miners at UBB. Blankenship is in prison because of his greed, his arrogance, and his criminal behavior. This most recent stunt shows that he still has not learned this lesson: if you gamble with miners lives, you deserve to go to prison.” . . .

Goodwin said a convicted criminal who denies his crimes from prison is still a convicted criminal – and still in prison.

“The only difference is that this one has the money to spend a fortune on postage for his denials,” he said.

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Herculaneum, Missouri and La Oroya, Peru. I’ve never been to the former but, when I visited La Oroya in 1975 (about a year after the Peruvian military government had nationalized it), it looked and felt one of those dark, rainy, cold scenes in a dystopian film (like Blade Runner) or, closer to home, the South Works in Chicago. From what I’ve read, Herculaneum was no better.

As it turns out, the two cities are closely connected: the Doe Run Co., one of the world’s largest lead producers (and part of the Renco Group, the private holding company of New York mining mogul Ira Rennert), has operated smelters in both places.* And, in both company towns, workers and their families have suffered high levels of lead poisoning.

As Mother Jones explained back in 2006:

The story of these two towns and how they found each other illustrates an increasingly common pattern: A company faced with mounting public pressure and environmental costs in the United States expands its dirty operations abroad, where regulations are lax, labor costs low, and natural resources abundant–and where impoverished people become dependent on the jobs and charity of the very business that causes them harm.


After decades of battles, beginning with an ugly labor dispute in the early 1990s and dozens of lawsuits, the Herculaneum smelter was finally closed (in 2013), after Doe Run decided not to make the investments necessary to meet U.S. Clean Air standards. Now, it’s part of the Southwest Jefferson County Mining Site, a superfund project.


Smelting operations in La Oroya, on the other hand, which in 2013 was classified (by the Blacksmith Institute) as the fifth least recommended city to live on the planet (based on the presence of heavy metals, mercury, arsenic, pesticides and radionuclides in air, soil and water samples and the number of people exposed to pollution), may soon be reopened. Peru’s new president, former Wall Street executive Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, “says Peru needs to relax air-quality standards to attract investors to buy and restart the century-old complex, which processes mineral concentrates into high-value metals for export.”

“Why send concentrate to China or elsewhere when you could smelt it here?” Mr. Kuczynski, who took office Thursday, said in an interview recently. “To do that, you have to have environmental standards that are realistic.”


*This is the same Rennert who, in 2015, was found guilty of looting his bankrupt magnesium producer (to the tune of $117 million) and, earlier this year, was forced to restore full pension benefits for 1,350 retired steelworkers who worked at Renco’s bankrupt RG Steel unit. Doe Run Peru halted operations at La Oroya in 2009. The smelter is now controlled by Doe Run’s former creditors, who have until 27 August to find a new buyer. Kuczynski is now trying to extend the liquidation deadline.


Don Blankenship, the chief executive of the Massey Energy Company in 2010 when a fire in the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 miners—who should have been charged with murder but was earlier only convicted of a federal misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate mine safety standards—was sentenced by U.S. district judge Irene Berge to one year in prison and fined the maximum of $250,000.

That comes out to only about twelve or thirteen days in jail for the deaths of each one of those murdered workers.

That’s why Ann Bybee-Finley [ht: ja] has launched the “Making one year count” campaign, calling on people to send letters to Blankenship every day he is in prison:

She wants to show Blankenship how many people he affected and empower West Virginians to speak out against the abuses and influence of the coal industry in their state. . .

“He only gets one year and nothing we can say or do will change that right now. Working with what we got, how can we make this year more meaningful?” Bybee-Finley said. “If we could make it longer, a lot of people would, but we can’t, right now, so we have to take this alternative approach.”


Chart of the day

Posted: 10 November 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,


In the wake of the disaster caused by the dam break at one of BHP Billiton’s jointly owned mines in Brazil, I took a look at the data collection and analysis conducted by Lindsay Newland Bowker and David M. Chambers (pdf) for the Center for Science in Public Participation.

What Bowker and Chambers found is that—in contrast to the prevailing story “that the lower numbers of failures and incidents in the two most recent decades evidence the success of modern mining regulation, improved industry practices and modern technology”—there has been an emerging and pronounced trend since 1960 toward a higher incidence of “Serious” and “Very Serious” failures. In other words, the consequence of loss from Tailings Storage Facility failures has become increasingly greater.

Their conclusion?

The advances in mining technology over the past 100 years which have made it economically feasible to mine lower grades of ore against a century of declining prices have not been counterbalanced with advances in economically efficient means of managing the exponentially expanding volume of associated environmental liabilities in waste rock, tailings and waste waters. In fact those new technologies which do offer better management of mine wastes usually add significant cost and are often detrimental to bottom line financial feasibility. This is evidenced in a post-1990 trend toward un-fundable environmental losses of greater consequence. This interdisciplinary review of TSF failures 1910-2010 establishes a clear and irrefutable relationship between the mega trends that squeeze cash flows for all miners at all locations, and this indisputably clear trend toward failures of ever greater environmental consequence.


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