After 29 miners employed by Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship died in an explosion of a West Virginia mine last week, there has been increasing scrutiny of Massey’s prioritization of profits over safety. Last year, Blankenship proclaimed it was “very difficult” to obey “nonsensical” safety rules. In 2001, Blankenship said he “doesn’t pay much attention to the violation count,” and a few years later, issued a memo to employees telling the ignore any order – including safety – except to “run coal” because “coal pays the bills.” He even said mine safety regulations were “as silly as global warming.”
So this morning’s news from the S&P stock exchange should be music to Don Blankenship’s ears. Massey’s stock has been upgraded to a “buy” because the accident should be “immaterial” to Massey’s finances.
Massey Energy on Monday drew an upgrade to buy from hold at S&P Equity Research, while analysts cut their 2010 earnings estimate by 7 cents a share to $2.55 a share on production losses and costs following an explosion that killed 29 miners. “We believe that the financial impact of the Upper Big Branch mine tragedy to Massey Energy will be immaterial,” S&P said in a note to clients. “Our opinion is based on our analysis of industry mining accidents, Massey’s indemnification to litigation via insurance, and our belief that the company has ample capacity to mitigate most of the 1.6 million tons of production that was expected to be sold from Upper Big Branch.”
This is the bet that Blankenship made with the lives of 29 miners: that he could risk their lives without risking his profits. Richard Trumka called this disaster “the inevitable result of a profit-driven system and reckless corporate conduct.” He couldn’t be more correct. And Don Blankenship couldn’t care less.
Addendum: Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis has called for a moment of silence at 3:30pm Eastern today for the miners and their families.
UPDATE: Maybe it’s not all rainbows and sunshine for Blankenship. The New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who controls $14 million in Massey stock, wants Blankenship out as Chairman and CEO.
New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is calling for the resignation of Don Blankenship, the chairman and chief executive of Massey Energy Co., the mining firm that lost 29 miners to a deadly underground explosion last week.
This isn’t simply a case of New York politicians passing judgment on other areas of the country. It turns out that the New York State Common Retirement fund, which Mr. DiNapoli manages, owns more than 300,000 shares of Massey Energy worth more than $14 million.
DiNapoli previously led a successful shareholder effort to reveal the names of Massey’s board members; it would be satisfying him to see him organize his allies to force out Blankenship from Massey.