National Press Club

"Environmental Extremism" Costs Jobs, Mining Executive Contends

July 22, 2010

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The United States faces increasing loss of jobs if it continues to impose regulations of dubious merit on the nation's business and industrial sector, Don Blankenship, chairman and CEO of Massey Energy Co., said at a July 22 National Press Club Luncheon.

He spoke in the face of wide criticism of his company over the April 5 explosion at Massey's Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia that killed 29 miners. It was the worst such disaster since the 1970 explosion killing 38 miners in Hyden, Ky. But his opening remarks were directed at the U.S. government's massive debt, which he said could cause it to fail "if it continues to bleed that way."

Blankenship warned against saddling business and industry, including coal mines, with more regulations that he said are often counter-productive, costing jobs at home and sending many overseas.
"People are losing jobs because of environmental extremism," he said, adding that the focus should be on making business more productive rather than on "political correctness. We are trying to get sensible behavior in Washington."

He defended coal mining, saying it played a major role in giving Americans the quality of life and extended lifespans they enjoy. Moreover, he said, "coal is 70 percent cleaner today than it was 30 years ago."

The government's mounting debt comes at a time when "1.3 billion people in the world exist on less than a dollar a day," he said. "We can forget them if we don't see them. Millions die of preventable diseases."

The native West Virginian, who worked in the mines as a young man, said Massey tries to make its mines as safe as possible. "Coal mining in central Appalachia is difficult," he declared. "We have spent tens of millions of dollars on safety."

A 1972 accounting graduate of Marshall University, Blankenship received the school's "Most Distinguished Alumni" award and was inducted into the Lewis College of Business Hall of Fame in 1999.

In the question-answer period, he told how he was "with families (of explosion victims) every night -- 25 of the 29 families -- and didn't sleep for two or three days" after the April 5 disaster. "We are trying everything we can to see that it won't happen again." He said the company is "very focused on improving the ventilation (in the mine)."

But the 60-year-old executive warned new regulations could be harmful. He said Massey hires only the best engineers from the best schools and suggested they were often better than the government inspectors. He contrasted U.S. mines with those in China, which are relatively free of regulations.

Blankenship said he lives near the Upper Big Branch mine in a 106-year-old house he figures is worth around $250,000.

-- Bob Webb,