Coal: It's A Dirty Business. Oh, And Sometimes It Murders People Too.
How can you not trust this guy?
Coal. PAC Gold. Kentucky Crack. It's an interesting time for our some of our dirtiest corporate persons. Under attack from stupid Obama, limp-wristed yet increasingly affordable alternative energy sources, overextended regulatory agencies, and fucking hippies, these persecuted companies have had no choice but to pass on the persecution to their workers and others in the communities they "serve." And you say "Trickle Down" theory is bunk. Pfft.
In perfect world, CEO hoped to kill workers slowly, instead of via tragic mine collapse
Depending on where we are in the respective Duggar procreation and mass shooting cycles, there are roughly 300 million Americans. And with all due respect to our country's most disgusting and violent shitbags, there may not be a worse person in the bunch than ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship. I might be forgetting someone, but it probably goes: 1) Rapist Priests 2) Blankenship 3) George Zimmerman 4) Prick Who Left Note On My Windshield About How To Street Park Despite Having Zero Knowledge Of Original Parking Situation.
Yes, Blankenship was the Man behind the Corporate Man that used to be Massey Energy. In a huge upset, he was actually criminally charged in association with the tragic 2010 West Virginia mine explosion that killed 29 of his workers. The allegations basically allege a conspiracy to hide safety violations from meddling federal regulators at the expense of his miners.
Earlier this year, federal prosecutors added another indictment for coal-dust cover-up as autopsies of the dead miners showed an inordinate amount of Black Lung for decedents who were only supposed to have a titch of the often fatal disease.
In court proceedings earlier this week, prosecutors played phone calls taped by Blankenship, some of which supported their contention that yeah, of course Massey knowingly hid coal dust data. How did he do it? Usually by diverting attention to the shady government boogeyman that Blankenship saw around every mine hoist:
“The fact is black lung is not the problem in this industry that is worth the effort they are putting into it,” Blankenship told an unidentified man about the government’s campaign. Mine safety officials say the disease has been a contributing factor in the injuries and deaths of more than 76,000 miners since 1968.
It should be stressed that these were Blankenship's own recordings. He taped these conversations. Why? Because we guess since there is no maniacal laughing about paying out Christmas bonuses in lung brushes, Don Tragic Wand thought that merely downplaying a widely known lung disease might actually improve his monstrous, jowl-blessed image. God willing, there's a phone call out there that might give the government its entire case:
Corporate Lackey: Hey Don, this coal dust is a health hazard.
Don: More Coal.
Lackey: But what about black lung?
Don: More Coal.
Lackey: These ventilators aren't working correctly.
Don. More Coal.
Lackey: Ok, but the investigators are coming.
Don: Lie to them again. And More Coal, fuckers.
Due to Blankenship's dickish control freak ways, this is basically an unprecedented case and it's possible Blankenship could see decades in prison. Or, since he's a rich dude with a proclivity for exotic trips with local judges, he could get sentenced to a handful of years at some minimal security white collar joint where he'll probably have decent wine and an exemplary fluffer. Since Guantanamo's still open, maybe we can send him there for an indefinite duration since he's SORTA like a terrorist who happens to be good at business.
Regardless, hopefully he dies in prison and someone writes a catchy folk song that miners from all of Blankenship's 150 mines can hum as they piss on the grave of the unconscionable piece of flesh-encased slurry.
As for Massey Energy, the giant Corporate Person was saved by slightly less bad Corporate Foster Dad Alpha Natural Resources in 2011. Coincidentally, Alpha recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy so that it could dust off some of its debt burden and "extract" concessions from all of those workers with their cushy mining jobs. While Alpha has had to let go of thousands of employees as coal demand drops, it's found a stash of cash to pay flat earth climate-change denier Chris Horner (who is
an awesome, actual scientist a lawyer).
While the downturn in prospects for dirty coal may have presented an opportunity for a savvy, gigantic energy company to diversify its business and retrain its workers in burgeoning renewable sectors, it's probably easier to harass big bad nerd science nerds and use bankruptcy to restructure union contracts.
Lets learn how the True Patriots at Patriot Coal got caught being assholes!
Speaking of bankruptcy, we should discuss Patriot Coal. But first we should talk about how it's probably a terrible idea to trust any nationalist-sounding Corporate Person. Like trusting an independently certified optometrist or a guy with three first names, it's not a swell idea. "HI, I'm from America Is The Fucking Best Corp. You bought this phone card, oh by the way we own your house now."
Poor little Corporate Buddy Patriot Coal is bankrupt. And that's sad. But like many corporate bankruptcies, there's often more than meets the eye, which is one reason why ProPublica took a dive into the exit plan.
People lose their jobs when Corporate Persons are diagnosed with a lack of viability. That's understandable, because $$$$. But let's take the case of 208 retirees from Southern Indiana who previously worked for Squaw Creek Coal Company. Through a byzantine maze of acquisitions and chip-shuffling, Patriot assumed responsibility from Alcoa to provide healthcare for these retirees. Oh by the way, Patriot was spun off from Peabody Energy a few years ago and coincidentally saddled with smelly liabilities. We're no Sherlock (or John) Holmes, but it almost seems as if Patriot's bankruptcy was the intent.
But as for the 208 retired Hoosiers:
In the filings, the lawyers informed the court that Patriot (or technically, its subsidiary Heritage) had negotiated a $22 million payment from Alcoa to assume the outstanding health care obligations for the Squaw Creek workers. [...] But here’s the catch: Patriot is not putting the $22 million toward the Squaw Creek health care benefits. According to the court filings, only $4 million will go toward that purpose — $1 million for the benefits of former salaried managers at the mine, and $3 million for the rank-and-file miners. The rest of the money from Alcoa — $18 million — is going to cover the costs of the bankruptcy.
That's right, totally marginalized and tar-lunged retirees! Eighty percent of the money earmarked for your healthcare is going to the heroes at Big Law who orchestrated The Plan by putting a little in Column A and a little in Column B. And so another sad chapter in the lives of American coal miners ends, and a few associates at Kirkland & Ellis get their partner wings.
But WAIT, everyone! In a Nice Time turn of events, late last week the parties "stepped away" from the proposed plan because there's an actual threshold of shame to which corporate lawyers and energy executives are NOT impervious. WE mean, it also took Bill AND Hillary Clinton to separately rail against the deal, but the Shame Threshold was reached nonetheless.
Now, with Patriot’s cancellation of the deal with Alcoa, that outcome has been avoided. It remains to be seen how the Squaw Creek health care obligation will be handled—whether Alcoa will continue to pay for it on an ongoing basis, or move the retirees into the union-overseen fund with enough money to cover them.
But off the table is the notion that the benefits could be siphoned off to pay for the bankruptcy proceedings at a company the miners never worked for.
This is as Nice Time as the coal industry gets. Kudos to ProPublica for changing hearts and minds with real journalism. Hopefully they'll be paying attention the next time the energy companies inevitably try to give these retirees the shaft (pun intended).
[Bloomberg / ProPublica]