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National Public Radio’s Howard Berkes reports that Don Blankenship (above), CEO of Massey Energy, was paid $18.8 million last year “even as some of the coal mines he supervised accumulated safety violations and injuries at rates that greatly exceed national rates.” That was $6.8 million over what Blankenship earned in 2008. Massey owned the Upper  Big Branch mine, the West Virginia underground coal operation that exploded on April 5, killing 29 men. It was the deadliest U.S. mine disaster in 40 years.

Although other Massey mines had better records, the Upper Big Branch mine had “repeated significant and substantial [safety] violations” last year at 19 times the national rate. Berkes reported that in one violation, a federal mine safety inspector wrote that “management engaged in aggravated conduct constituting more than ordinary negligence in that production was deemed more important.”

Meanwhile, one Massey corporate board member said the treatment the company was receiving after the explosion made him want to join the “tea party.” Bobby Ray Inman, the former acting dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas and a former Navy admiral, has served on the Massey board since 1985. Between 2006 and 2008, he earned more than $1 million in cash, stock and other compensation, according to Asher Price, a reporter at the Austin (Tx) American-Statesman. Inman blamed the high number of safety violations at the Upper Big Branch mine “on an effort to target Massey’s nonunion mines.” Inman said Blankenship “is without a question the best coal miners in the business….”My anger level is pretty high for the disinformation pushed by unions,” Inman told Price. “I’m a political independent, but this is enough to make a tea partier out of me.” 

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