Joe Manchin Tricked Into Appearing in Energy Propaganda Video

The senator says he didn’t know the former CEO of the company blamed for a deadly mine explosion was behind the video.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 17: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) talks to reporters before heading to a Senate Democratic policy luncheon, on Capitol Hill, September 17, 2013 in Washington, DC. Manchin discussed gun control issues with reporters in light of the Navy Yard shootings in Washington yesterday. 
National Journal
Jason Plautz
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Jason Plautz
March 31, 2014, 11:55 a.m.

A video that claims to re­veal the truth be­hind a min­ing dis­aster that killed 29 work­ers in West Vir­gin­ia de­ceived at least one per­son: Sen. Joe Manchin.

The West Vir­gin­ia Demo­crat fea­tures heav­ily in a doc­u­ment­ary re­leased on Monday that claims that gov­ern­ment and me­dia in­vest­ig­at­ors ig­nored evid­ence re­lated to the 2010 ex­plo­sion at the Up­per Big Branch mine.

Fund­ing that video — and po­ten­tially be­ne­fit­ting from its in­dustry-friendly con­clu­sions? Former Mas­sey En­ergy Pres­id­ent Don Blanken­ship, whose com­pany owned the UBB mine and was im­plic­ated in the ex­plo­sion by fed­er­al reg­u­lat­ors.

The video ef­fect­ively func­tions as an in­fomer­cial for Blanken­ship, who stepped down from Mas­sey just six months after the ex­plo­sion and has been out of the in­dustry since then. It claims that a buildup of nat­ur­al gas in­to the mine was likely be­hind the ex­plo­sion, con­trary to gov­ern­ment in­vest­ig­a­tions that blamed a buildup of coal dust linked to poor vent­il­a­tion sys­tems.

In a state­ment Monday, Manchin said that Adroit Films, the pro­duc­tion com­pany be­hind the video, “nev­er dis­closed to me the in­tent of this film.

“They lied to my face and told me this doc­u­ment­ary was fo­cused on mine safety, an is­sue I have been com­mit­ted to since the Farm­ing­ton Mine dis­aster that killed my uncle and 77 miners,” Manchin said. “Had I known the film was in any way as­so­ci­ated with Don Blanken­ship, I would have nev­er agreed to the in­ter­view.”

“I am not only liv­id that I was lied to, but I am even more en­raged that Don Blanken­ship would ma­nip­u­late a tragedy to pro­mote him­self and his own agenda,” he ad­ded. “I am go­ing to pur­sue every leg­al re­course avail­able against Adroit’s despic­able tac­tics.”

No oth­er West Vir­gin­ia politi­cians are in­ter­viewed in the film, and Rep. Nick Ra­hall is seen in news foot­age cri­ti­ciz­ing Mas­sey. The video shows an email from the Mine Safety and Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion de­clin­ing to par­ti­cip­ate, cit­ing Blanken­ship’s in­volve­ment.

Adroit Films is a Vir­gin­ia-based pro­duc­tion com­pany that has worked on com­mer­cials and cor­por­ate videos and had pre­vi­ously pro­duced a video titled “Amer­ic­an Com­mon Sense” that fea­tured Blanken­ship dis­cuss­ing the gov­ern­ment’s reg­u­lat­ory agenda. Adroit was not avail­able for com­ment for this story.

The video acts as Blanken­ship’s re­sponse to MSHA in­vest­ig­a­tions, me­dia re­ports, and law­suits that im­plic­ated Mas­sey En­ergy in the April 2010 ex­plo­sion at the Up­per Big Branch mine, the worst such ac­ci­dent in the U.S. since 1970. A May 2011 re­port from MSHA scol­ded Mas­sey for hav­ing an in­ad­equate vent­il­a­tion sys­tem and says the com­pany pres­sured miners to keep work­ing in areas without ad­equate oxy­gen levels.

In Feb­ru­ary 2013, a former Mas­sey of­fi­cial, speak­ing un­der oath as part of a plea deal, also said Blanken­ship was in­volved in at­tempts to cov­er up safety vi­ol­a­tions at com­pany mines from fed­er­al reg­u­lat­ors.

Blanken­ship fun­ded the video and is in­ter­viewed ex­tens­ively throughout. It por­trays him as an in­nov­at­or for mine safety, of­ten in the face of ob­struc­tion from MSHA. At one point, an un­seen nar­rat­or says that Blanken­ship, “the man dir­ectly blamed for this tra­gic ac­ci­dent, be­lieves that he has al­ways done his best to live up to his re­spons­ib­il­ity for miner safety.”

“This doc­u­ment­ary is fur­ther evid­ence of his tak­ing his re­spons­ib­il­ity ser­i­ously, even at great risk and ex­pense to him­self,” the nar­rat­or says.

In the video, Blanken­ship slams the gov­ern­ment for policies that he says are dam­aging the coal in­dustry and some­times run counter to miner safety. The gov­ern­ment and miner uni­ons, he says, are “liv­ing in the past” and “don’t see things for what they are be­cause they’re blinded by their dis­like for busi­ness and their dis­like for cer­tain in­di­vidu­als.”

A spokes­man for MSHA said the ad­min­is­tra­tion stood by its find­ings from the ac­ci­dent in­vest­ig­a­tion re­port, adding that they were con­sist­ent with “nu­mer­ous oth­er re­ports.”

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