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Massey’s Blankenship: Past Mining Violations Shouldn’t Be Relevant to Deadly Blast

The Charleston Daily Mail had a long sit-down interview with Don Blankenship, the head of Virginia-based Massey Energy, which owns the Upper Big Branch Mine where 29 miners were killed in an explosion last week. Massey has been the focus of much attention because of the long history of safety violations the company has racked up at its projects in recent months and years — including ventilation problems discovered at the Upper Big Branch just days before the blast.

Blankenship, though, basically dismissed that record, telling the Daily Mail that, “This particular mine I don’t think is very abnormal in terms of total violations.”

When somebody says, ‘Did the violations have anything to do with the accident?’ They should not, because every violation is abated and agreed to by everyone before there is any further mining. So you would not think that any violation of the past had any relevance.

Maybe not. But abatement is different than prevention. And a company with such a history of violations also has the obligation to explain why it’s not doing more to prevent those unsafe conditions from repeatedly surfacing to begin with. (It’s almost like they’re putting profits above safety.)

In the words of Celeste Monforton, a former mining safety official who’s now at George Washington University: “If they find these [violations] when they know the inspectors are coming, what happens the rest of the time?”

It’s a question that Mr. Blankenship will likely have to answer to lawmakers sometime soon.

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