Or: No, West Virginia, there is no Santa Claus.
The good news is that Don Blankenship checked into federal prison last week. The bad news is that he’ll check out again in 2017 after having served only one year, because – incredibly – that’s the maximum punishment allowed for “conspiring to willfully violate mine safety standards,” even when doing so results in the deaths of 29 miners, as happened at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine in 2010.
Call me crazy, but I’m betting that West Virginia energy company lobbyists had a hand in writing the laws that govern their industry.
Blankenship’s trip to the pokey caps a decades-long career that any Gilded Age coal baron would be proud to call his own. Environmental catastrophes, manipulation of the media and criminal justice system, blatant disregard for the health and welfare of his workers, and all in the relentless pursuit of profit. Déjà vu for anybody familiar with circumstances surrounding the Ludlow massacre of 1914.
If you’re new to Blankenship and would like to know more about him, Laurence Leamer’s The Price of Justice is a great place to start. Truth so eye-popping as to read like fiction. Or if you prefer the opposite approach, Upton Sinclair’s King Coal is a thinly fictionalized riff on the 1914 Colorado coal miner’s strike that ended at Ludlow. So much about the characters and events in these two books is interchangeable that reading them back-to-back can be disorienting.
NOTE: Pictured are the books by Leamer and Sinclair, together with a playbill I designed in 2010 for the Centre Stage premiere of Walter Thinnes’ “Coal Creek.” You can download the program in PDF file format here.