June 8, 2009
Supreme Court Rules Against Massey Coal
The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that a $3 million contribution from Massy Coal to Justice Brent Benjamin’s 2004 campaign created “a serious, objective risk of actual bias that required Justice Benjamin’s recusal.”
Justice Benjamin cast the deciding vote in the reversal of a West Virginia court decision ordering Massey to pay $50 million in damages in a dispute with a local coal company.
Another West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals judge involved in the Massey case, Justice Spike Maynard recused himself last year after photos surfaced showing the judge and Massey CEO Don Blankenship vacationing together in Monaco. Justice Maynard voted with Justice Benjamin to reverse the decision against Massey.
In response Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign issued the following statement.
“Today’s ruling upholds the belief that judges should be fair and impartial; welcome news not just for those in West Virginia, but in states across the country where the coal industry exerts tremendous pressure, political and financial, to skirt the law.
“This is a stark reminder of the lengths Big Coal will go to circumvent the law. Already our air, water and communities are being sacrificed to devastating mining, dirty coal plants, and coal ash impoundments—all to pad Big Coal’s pockets. And the industry is fighting hard, with major lobbying contributions at both the state and federal levels, to be able to continue business as usual.
“The $3 million Massey spent in the West Virginia case is small change compared to the well over $10 million that the industry has already spent on Capitol Hill to weaken climate legislation and prevent a move to clean energy. The Supreme Court has made it clear that justice can not be bought, and we shouldn’t let our future be either. It’s up to Congress now to make sure Big Coal does not buy its way out of a clean energy bill; failing to clean up old, dirty power plants will keep us from realizing the full potential of a clean energy economy.”
Massey is the single biggest practitioner of devastating mountaintop removal coal mining, which has already buried close to 2,000 miles of streams and destroyed some 500 mountains in Appalachia. Massey has a long history of widespread environmental abuses which have severely impacted communities across Appalachia. Last year Massey was forced to pay a fine of $20 million for over 4,600 Clean Water Act violations at its mining operations in Appalachia.