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. 
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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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