Convicted coal baron Don Blankenship has former miner stump for him, bash Obama and the MSHA

Photo: Screen Capture/YouTube

Convicted coal baron Don Blankenship is hitting the airwaves to convince West Virginians he’d make mines safer if he were elected a United States Senator.

In a new ad released earlier this month, a former Upper Big Branch (UBB) miner Chad Neil bashes the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Obama administration for blaming miners for the deadly mine explosion on April 5, 2010 at one of Blankenship’s mines.

“The Obama administration blamed the Upper Big Branch miners for causing the mine to explode,” Neil said in the ad. “But that’s not true.”

“Don Blankenship is right, MSHA investigators should apologize to the miners’ families,” he added.

Then, looking directly into the camera, the ex-UBB miner concludes, “Vote for Don, and he will make miners safer.”

The ad is jarring especially given the fact Blankenship was convicted and served one year in a federal prison in 2016 for conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards leading to the deaths of 29 of Neil’s fellow miners.

Yet, it follows a pattern for Blankenship who has long exploited the lingering pain of the UBB disaster to help clear his name.

In the years following the mine explosion in rural Raleigh County, the reverberations from the deadly disaster continued to rock coal families across the region.

Before Blankenship was convicted in a high-profile trial five years after the explosion, lower level officials in the min — including a superintendent, a foreman, a security chief, and a miner who used a bogus license — all were convicted as a result of the investigation launched by MSHA.

Others, including a man identified as Gary Chad Neil and who also worked the shift before the explosion like Neil in the ad, were called to give depositions to MSHA.

Nearly two years after the explosion in 2012, the new owners of the UBB mine announced they were closing the massive mine and the source of many families’ income, for good.

The blame for the UBB mine closure, as well as others in declining coal country, quickly fell on former President Barack Obama and his environmental and mine safety regulations enacted after the explosion.

Meanwhile, Blankenship, who was made a villain in days following UBB, used the anger to help plant the idea of the “War on Coal” that was taking root across the state.

Now, still on federal supervision following his release from prison, U.S. Senate candidate Blankenship is using miners like Neil and even those who lost loved ones in UBB, to help him reinvent himself as a fellow victim of MSHA and Obama.

Yet, so far, despite his deep pockets, Blankenship’s attempt at reinvention has been a tough sell.

The disgraced coal baron’s town halls and events have drawn sparse crowds and little press coverage in a deep-red state that does not seem quite willing to buy that a rich man convicted of putting profits before miners’ lives now has their best interests at heart.