Massey Energy's in-your-face style
The four-star Jefferson Hotel in downtown Richmond is a symbol of the state capital's Old South gentility. On Tueday morning, however, it became an armed camp.
Taking station inside were dozens of hotel security and police officers, some carrying wads of plastic handcuffs. Outside, more police, some on horseback, stood watch as hundreds of demonstrators, including students and United Mine Workers of America members, chanted and cheered.
The reason? The shareholders meeting of Massey Energy, a Richmond-based coal firm whose Upper Big Branch Mine in southern West Virginia exploded April 5. Twenty-nine miners died in the worst such disaster in 40 years.
The firm's chief executive, Don Blankenship, is famous for his tough-guy stances against critics of his firm's mountaintop removal mining polices and other environmentalists whom he dubs "Greeniacs."
The meeting didn't take long. Blankenship got what he wanted. Moves by activists and institutional investors to dump three directors, including the Massey president, were turned back. Calling the mine explosion "an event that has brought great sadness," Blankenship said the firm has gone "gone well beyond what was legally required" to help the dead miners' survivors.
The news media were held at bay, sequestered in a separate room. When the time for question and answers came, the piped-in feed from the meeting was cut off.
Outside, the protests continued. Jerry Massie, a UMWA member from Fayetteville, W.Va., told me that the fiercely anti-union Blankenship "wants to go back to the 1940s" when it comes to safety issues.
Massey Energy did relatively well finanically in 2009, bringing in $2.3 billion in coal revenue. Its stock had risen dramatically, based on exports of metallurgical coal to Asia, until the April disaster.
But coal, which supplies half of the electricity in the U.S., still comes with an enormous price tag in human and environmental suffering. Blankenship's in-your-face corporate style only puts a spotlight on that fact.
| May 18, 2010; 2:45 PM ET
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