At least partial justice was done today in West Virginia when a federal jury convicted Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, of conspiracy to commit mine safety violations. Blankenship ran the Upper Big Branch mine with an iron fist, running coal in lethally unsafe ways because he put his own profit far above the lives of the miners who labored for him. The mine exploded in 2010, killing 29 men.
The jury was presented with evidence that Blankenship directed managers not to solve ventilation problems and treated black lung disease, which slowly suffocates and eventually kills many of its victims, as a problem not worth worrying about. His reaction to a report detailing scores of unsafe conditions and practices was to worry about the report being discovered after a disaster, rather than to invest necessary funds in safety improvements and better staffing.
Blankenship faces a maximum sentence of only one year in prison, but the criminal conviction is the first of its kind for a major mine executive. This conviction is an important step forward in holding executives accountable for worker safety.