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Massey Board Member Scrutinized for Safety Record in Appalachia, Environmental Record in Michigan

At our affiliate, The Michigan Messenger, Eartha Jane Melzer today adds another layer to the tale of growing protest by some large investors in Massey Energy who are wary that the company’s dubious safety record is a threat to shareholders.

Nine state pension funds or treasury offices are urging Massey shareholders to purge the company next week of its president and two board members who sit on the company’s safety committee, charging that they ignored safety concerns in the lead up to the April 5 blast that killed 29 miners in Montcoal, W.Va.

Melzer notes that one of those board members, Richard Gabrys, also sits on the board of directors of CMS Energy, a Michigan-based energy giant with a record of environmental disdain that have also been viewed as a threat to shareholders. That Gabrys is now under a microscope for his position at Massey, Melzer writes, is also raising eyebrows more locally over his position at CMS.

The fact that Gabrys also directs one of Michigan’s biggest energy companies has raised some concerns here.

CMS has it’s own history of problems with environmental violations, and in a March filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission the company acknowledged that these violations are a liability that could cost shareholders and/or ratepayers.

Melzer outlines the company’s track-record of environmental problems, including EPA citations filed against several of its coal burning electric plants.

And then there’s this:

In March 2007 EPA cited the company for violating the Clean Air Act by releasing more than the legal amount of soot from 14 of the company’s boilers for a total of 37 days between 2004-2005.

And this:

In October 2008 EPA issued violations to the company for violating the Clean Air Act by carrying out 10 projects at the J.H. Campbell Plant in West Olive; the B.C. Cobb Plant in Muskegon; and the D.E. Karn and J.C. Weadock Plants in Essexville without regard for the law that required them to install technology to reduce emissions (NOx and/or SO2) which cause ozone formation and acid rain.

These violations remain unresolved.

In corporate America, none of this will change as long as the penalties for violating the rules — whether they be safety regulations or environmental safeguards — are less than the cost of preventing the mishaps to begin with. In this sense, it’s no stretch to say that miner deaths and environmental degradation are simply the cost of doing business — another line-item on a long tally sheet designed to meet some bottom line.

Company shareholders could change this. But that would require them to care about something other than that aforementioned bottom line. So don’t go holdin’ your breath.

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