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Former US coal company CEO, jailed for deadly mine explosion, to run for Senate seat

22 January 2018

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, sentenced in 2016 to one year in prison on a conviction stemming from the deadliest US mine explosion in four decades, has announced he will launch a campaign to wrest the West Virginia US senate seat currently held by moderate Democrat Joe Manchin.

Don Blankenship - Image: DonHayden1980/Wikimedia
Don Blankenship - Image: DonHayden1980/Wikimedia

His sentence was for conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards at Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine in southern West Virginia where 29 workers died in a 2010 explosion. In September 2017, the US Supreme Court rejected his appeal against the conviction.

He is aligning himself with President Donald Trump, and is banking on the significant support in West Virginia for the President to boost his Senate campaign. Being jailed during the Obama administration was probably a “badge of honour”, Blankenship told CBNC in an interview.

The former Massey Energy CEO said he did not believe his sentence would hurt his Republican bid to become one of the state’s two senators.

Once dubbed West Virginia’s “king of coal” for his working-class background and tough approach to business, Blankenship helped build Massey into Appalachia’s largest coal producer, with more than 7,000 employees and more than 40 mines.

An investigation by the US Government’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) concluded that the disaster was caused by a lengthy period of safety violations by Massey and that the company's management prioritised coal production and profits ahead of safety protections for miners.

Blankenship maintains his innocence, saying natural gas and not methane and excess coal dust caused the explosion. He has been trying to get the MSHA, now controlled by a Trump appointee, to revisit the original investigation and come to different conclusions over the causes of the disaster.

Blankenship is positioning himself as a businessman who gives to charity and has worked to change his state for the better.

Trump won West Virginia by a landslide in the 2016 president election against the Democrat candidate, Hillary Clinton.

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