Last November a grand jury indicted Don Blankenship (wiki), former CEO of Massey Energy (wiki) for crimes leading up to the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in April 2010. Twenty-nine miners lost their lives that day. Two miners escaped the explosion. See coverage of the explosion here, here and here (great index of official documents) and reports on the indictment here, here and here.
I am one of the few West Virginians with no direct family connection to coal mining. Nevertheless, the atmosphere surrounding the industry permeates all aspects of life in central Appalachia. The story is that mining is inherently risky. Lost miners are treated like military veterans. No one says they’ll die for coal, but actions and attitudes are such that coal is the lifeblood of the state. Personally, the ending of the coal industry can’t come fast enough for me. The devastation to the geography and psyche of my homeland brought on by the industry over the course of decades is tremendous.
With this indictment comes an opportunity to begin new and better conversations about the good future of West Virginia. Here are some of the conversations I’d like to see begin:
- A conversation about the real costs of coal and a renewed look at all of WV’s resources.
- A conversation about the role of government and the people’s role in government.
- A conversation about what is fair and right treatment of all kinds of laborers.
- A conversation about what struggling communities can do to improve their lot.
I’ll share thoughts on each of these in the weeks to come and link them back here.
I share these insights with a deep sadness that I can no longer claim to be part of the solution for West Virginia. But, like many ex-pats, I have taken my love for those West Virginia hills with me. I still have family there, and I will always feel indebted to West Virginia. Perhaps a spark of imagination can come with this series. Perhaps a seed sown will be claimed by one of those remaining, brave, resourceful, free mountaineers who will cultivate it into a piece of a brighter West Virginia. This indictment and the trial period to follow is an opportunity for real, deep-down soul searching.
Image: "Don Blankenship, CEO Massey Energy" by Rainforest Action Network (CC)