Pressure mounts on coal king
Don Blankenship is the man who destroys mountains
Is Don Blankenship the baddest guy in America? He is the chairman of Massey Energy, the company that blows up the mountains of West Virginia because that is the cheapest way of mining coal. A big man of 58 with a jutting moustache, he is a real-life version of Daniel Day-Lewis as the ruthless oilman of There Will Be Blood, nominated for an Oscar.
Blood has been spilled by coal miners in the Appalachian Mountains for years, most notoriously at a strike-break in 1921 just a few miles from where Blankenship was born. But at least the mines themselves did not scar the landscape back then. They were buried in hillbilly 'hollers', forested with hickory and hemlock.
Blankenship, who signed up for King Coal after school, has pioneered 'mountaintop removal', or MTR. This means blowing off mountain tops with the equivalent of 4,636 'bunker buster' bombs exploding daily, exposing coal seams which are then scooped up by the biggest diggers, cranes and trucks ever built.
Quite apart from its effect on climate change, the result is a moonscape. Whole villages have disappeared. The mountain tops are dumped in the rivers, killing them too. So far, half a million acres have been destroyed as Blankenship (left) does his best to consign to history the official state slogan - Wild Wonderful West Virginia.
Blankenship makes no apology: "Unions, communities, people, everybody has to accept that in the United States we have a capitalist society and capitalism from a business point of view is the survival of the most productive." Karl Marx couldn't have put it better.
But Blankenship is suddenly getting bad press. He is the villain of Coal River, a scathing new book by Vanity Fair writer Michael Shnayerson. And critical stories about him are now appearing in local newspapers which until recently have usually kowtowed.
Blankenship funneled $6m to Dubya Bush, always willing to deregulate, and locally he promises to "do whatever it takes" to defeat Democrats and Greens. He funded a campaign to elect his school buddy Elliot 'Spike' Maynard the Chief Justice of West Virginia. In return, Maynard overturned a $76m judgment against Massey for 'illegally' putting rival companies out of business.
But the press got hold of photographs of Blankenship and Maynard having a jolly time in Monte Carlo. The West Virginia Supreme Court has voted to void Maynard's ruling and reconsider the case, with its Chief Justice banished from the court.
Blankenship has been caught with his pants down. "This guy," says David Roberts of the environmental movement Gristmill, "is evil. And I don't use the word lightly." ·
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