People who want corporate accountability got some good holiday cheer when the CEO of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship resigned a few days ago.
Last April, after the accident that killed 29 miners in West Virginia, Prosperity Agenda along with 150 other groups urged the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute Blankenship and other Massey Coal executives for their gross negligence that led to the deaths of the miners. In the letter that I signed on behalf of a coalition organized by Velvet Revolution, we reviewed the long history of mine safety violations and abuse and told Attorney General Holder "that absent a criminal investigation, Mr. Blankenship will continue his criminal conduct and more people will be killed."
As I wrote in a widely published column:
"Were it not for the deliberate actions of Don Blankenship and Massey Energy the deaths of 29 miners in West Virginia would not have occurred. These deaths were foreseeable, even predicted, and this is not the first time Massey has caused the deaths of miners."
This was not the first time Blankenship's lack of attention to miner safety resulted in the deaths of miners. Massey Energy had been fined millions of dollars for violations of mine safety regulations and had already settled one case where miners were killed with criminal and civil fines totaling more than $4 million--the largest fine ever in coal history. As a result we urged that it was time to stop coddling corporate criminals like Blankenship and hold them accountable for their actions.
Corporate responsibility advocates continued to keep the pressure on and other organizations joined in, a movement was developing. A large protest was held in Richmond,VA at the annual board meeting of Massey Energy. See videos of the event here, here and here. We highlighted the growing movement for accountability and criminal prosecution and were rewarded when state and federal officials announced criminal and civil investigations. We reported on those investigations here.
And, now as the year draws to an end, we are pleased to report that Don Blankenship is resigning. The problems of Massey Energy are growing and the company may be sold or merge with another company. And, the criminal and civil probes are continuing. Blankenship's resignation is a first step, criminal and civil investigations will continue and hopefully, more accountability will follow. In addition to personal accountability for the executives and managers involved, mine safety regulators need to get even more aggressive in enforcing the law.
In a time when hope has been dashed for many and people feel powerless, it is important to see that citizens can make a difference if they are organized and refuse to compromise. We saw the Deficit Commission recommendations go down to defeat last week and now we see Blankenship forced to resign. All these battles continue, but we are having an impact, we are making a difference.
End the year recognizing that you have power and commit to exercising your power in concert with others in 2010. People can make a difference. Do not be afraid of your own power, exercise it -" your country needs you.
Kevin Zeese is executive director of Prosperity Agenda, http://www.ProsperityAgenda.US.