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What’s the Most Reprehensible Living American Up To These Days?

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Mine helmets and painted crosses at the entrance to Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine, as a memorial to the 29 miners killed there.

Oh Don Blankenship. You are really a piece of work.

Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy who is currently serving a one-year sentence in federal prison for conspiring to violate safety standards, is defending himself in the form of a 67-page booklet, “American Political Prisoner,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

The 2010 explosion at Blankenship’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia killed 29 people — the worst coal mining disaster in roughly 40 years — and Blankenship was found guilty of a misdemeanor for his “part in a dangerous conspiracy” to flout federal mine safety regulations, in the words of Judge Irene C. Berger. (Much to the dismay of prosecutors and some victims’ families, Blankenship was acquitted of three felony charges that would have resulted in a significantly longer prison term.)

Nonetheless, Blankenship seems intent on casting himself as the victim with his new booklet, of which he intends to mail 250,000 copies this week. The PDF is also available online.

“You can be sure I am fully innocent,” he writes. “In fact, more than 100 percent innocent. I spent my life improving coal miner safety and exercising my right to free speech… The real conspiracies were the government’s cover-up of the UBB truth and my prosecution.”

Blankenship also commissioned a documentary in 2014, Upper Big Branch — Never Again, in which he and various consultants attribute the explosion to a freak surge of natural gas.

However, multiple investigations into the disaster found severely inadequate ventilation, plus a buildup of explosive coal dust, combined with a spark from equipment resulted in a series of mile-long blasts that trapped or incinerated dozens of workers. Blankenship had told Massey executives to put safety improvements on hold, writing to one executive in 2008, “We’ll worry about ventilation or other issues at an appropriate time. Now is not the time.”

Now is never the time.

That this man is serving a mere year in prison is a huge injustice. Yet it’s amazing he is serving any time at all given how routinely employers who murder their workers through indifference to safety get off scot free. It was only Blankenship’s incredible attention to the detail of screwing over workers and the paper trail he left that even got him that much time.

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