What to do when you’re a coal company that recently caused the worst mining disaster in recent memory, when the federal government is investigating your reckless business practices, and when your classically villainous CEO is the last person on Earth who should have to enter the damage control business?
Would you a) recommit yourself to safeguarding your employees? b) adopt strict new environmental standards? or c) find a new CEO who can make tough but right and necessary decisions?
If you’re Massey Energy, you pick d) none of the above. What you do is go on the offensive against your critics, of course.
Though thousands of safety violations have been found at Massey Energy’s mines over the past few years and its mine explosion killed 29 miners just a few months ago, the company is more focused on quashing protesters through politically-motivated lawsuits than it is on preventing future catastrophes. If it is a choice between “taking responsibility” and “silencing critics,” Massey has clearly chosen the latter.
Massey CEO Don Blankenship took the opportunity of a National Press Club speaking engagement last week to rail against “knee-jerk political reactions” to the disasters that are his mines and to blame the federal government for all his company’s woes. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post quipped, “If Don Blankenship had any sense of shame, he’d crawl into a mine and hide.”
But Blankenship has no shame. What he does have is plenty of money to hire high-priced lawyers to file lawsuits against the people speaking out against Massey’s shameful practices.
Massey Energy wields what are known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation like a political cudgel. The company uses SLAPP suits to both punish activists who protest its destructive mining practices and lax safety attitude, as well as to scare off would-be protester from ever opening their mouths.
This week, Massey has slapped the so-called Dragline 14, a group of activists who shut down a massive, earth-wrecking machine called a dragline at one of Massey’s mountaintop removal mines for several hours, with just such a suit. Luckily, even though Massey has gobs of money and probably more than one sympathetic hometown judge in its pocket, these activists are not cowed by these intimidation tactics. Rather, they are fighting back. (Please donate to the Dragline 14’s legal defense fund.)
Unfortunately, this is not the only time Massey has pursued these tactics. The suit against the Dragline 14 is just one of four SLAPP suits against anti-mountaintop removal mining activists filed by Massey since 2008.
Rather than use its vast financial resources to persecute these activists, Massey should be taking a cold, hard look at its own business practices.
You can help the Dragline 14 and all activists being targeted by Massey by spreading this story far and wide and publicizing the despicable intimidation tactics being employed by Massey Energy. (Read: Tweets and Facebook shares most welcome!) And donate here to the Dragline 14’s legal defense fund.
Image credit: Rainforest Action Network