Former Coal Co. CEO Don Blankenship Indicted, Outlaw Coal Operations Skirting Penalties and More

Nov 14, 2014

Credit WV Division of Culture and History

Once considered untouchable, former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship was indicted on four federal charges in connection with the Upper Big Branch Disaster that killed 29 men in 2010. It’s news that folks in the coalfields never thought would happen.

In this episode, we’ll hear a special investigative series of reports about outlaw coal mining companies that keep operating despite injuries, violations and millions in fines.

And a new lawsuit has just been filed on behalf of the 78 coal miners who died in the Farmington Mine Disaster. We’ll hear memories from Sarah Kasnoski, one of the widows who lost her husband on that fateful date, November 20, 1968. 

Investigating Outlaw Mines That Keep Operating Despite Delinquent Fines

A recent investigative report has uncovered that some coal companies are working the system to avoid paying fines. The report also finds a connection between skirted financial penalties and injured coal miners: mines with more delinquent fines also have higher rates of injured workers.

NPR and Mine Safety and Health News sifted through citations, and documents for more than a year to find the connection. NPR’s Howard Berkes says it was no easy task. Each delinquent fine has a different start date, so tracking the injuries associated with the delinquent fines was complicated. In this episode, we hear the first three of these reports. We also talk with Berkes about mine safety and the development of these investigations.

This photo of Roy Middleton working underground at the Kentucky Darby mine now sits on the mantel in the Middleton home in Harlan County, Ky. He was killed after an explosion in 2006.
Credit Anna Boiko-Weyrauch/NPR/Original photo courtesy of the Middleton family

NPR and Mine Safety and Health News sifted through citations, and documents for more than a year to find the connection. NPR’s Howard Berkes says it was no easy task. Each delinquent fine has a different start date, so tracking the injuries associated with the delinquent fines was complicated. In this episode, we hear the first three of these reports. We also talk with Berkes about mine safety and the development of these investigations.

New Lawsuit Cites Evidence About the Farmington Mine Disaster of 1968

In an archived interview that was originally recorded in 1992, Sarah Kasnoski, of Barrickville, West Virginia recalls the last day she spent with her husband, who died in the Farmington Mine explosion of November, 1968 with 77 other miners. This mining disaster is also known as the Mannington Mine Disaster. This story was produced by Michael Kline and originally aired on NPR's All Things Considered in November, 1992. Now, 46 years after the Mannington Mine disaster, Sarah Kasnoski, has passed on. A new lawsuit was filed on Nov. 6th on behalf of the 78 miners, including Pete Kasnoski, who died in the mining disaster.

In 2008, writer Bonnie Stewart discovered a memo that suggests a security alarm inside the mine had been disabled. The alarm should have warned miners that the mine’s ventilation system wasn’t working.

The new lawsuit cites the evidence that Stewart help bring to light. In 2008 Scott Finn of West Virginia Public Radio originally reported on this story, about trying to solve the mystery of what killed those 78 miners back in 1968.

Bonnie Stewart’s book, No.9: The 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster, was published in 2011.

Music in this episode of Inside Appalachia was provided by Andy Agnew Jr., the late Hazel Dickens, who wrote and performed “Mannington Mine Disaster”, from the album Harlan County, USA, Songs of the Coal Miner's Struggle, Alan Cathead Johnston and Stacy Grubb, with “Montcoal West Virginia”, and Kathryn Claire, who performed "Miner’s Lullaby" from her album Shimmering Blue. "Miner's Lullaby" was written by James Low.