Massey Energy Co.'s embattled chief executive, Donald Blankenship, is throwing in the towel amid state and federal probes and multiple lawsuits following a blast that killed 29 miners in April, plus a flurry of buyout interest from other companies.
As Massey's chief for nearly two decades, Blankenship willingly has served as a lightning rod for environmental and labor union critics who charge that his corner-cutting management has resulted in mountain devastation and miners' injuries and deaths. His in-your-face style and controversial donations to politicians and judges have been seen by some as liabilities for Richmond-based Massey.
Although he's soon to be out of the picture — he'll retire at the end of the month — Blankenship leaves Massey with potential fines and legal settlements from the deadly Upper Big Branch mine disaster and his mountaintop removal surface-mining practices. These will be excess baggage while the company considers takeover offers from Abingdon-based Alpha Natural Resources, India's Arcelor Mittal and other U.S. coal giants Arch Coal and Consol Energy Co.
Blankenship's successor is Massey's president, Baxter Phillips Jr., who's expected to bring the boardroom focus back to Richmond as opposed to small West Virginia cities from which Blankenship operated. His departure also could mean that Massey not only survives intact but also becomes a buyer of other coal companies.
Massey's advantage is that it has large reserves of rich, metallurgical coal that's in great demand from steel makers, predominately in Asia. Although the tough-guy boss is on his way out, Massey may be around for a while longer.