Q&A with Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy Co.

Capping carbon dioxide is an issue that has lost a bit of steam, on both Capitol Hill and the world stage. The Senate has slow-walked a climate bill this fall, concentrating instead on healthcare reform, and isn’t expected to take up a bill before the end of the year, although leaders insist they’ll put a cap on carbon in 2010. Meanwhile, world leaders say they won’t reach an overarching agreement to cut emissions at the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.

If climate legislation never gets much further than it has, it would be just fine with Don Blankenship, the outspoken chairman and CEO of Massey Energy Co., the fourth-largest coal producer in the United States. He believes a climate bill like the one authored by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) could devastate his industry and force more manufacturing jobs overseas. And Blankenship doesn’t believe the problem the bill seeks to address — a planet warming due to human activity — is real.

Unlike other executives, however, you won’t find Blankenship spending millions on trying to sway lawmakers to his way of thinking. Massey Energy spends next to nothing on lobbying on its own, although it is a member of groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that do spend millions of dollars each year to try to influence Congress.

“I don’t believe you can change the behavior of politicians by asking them to vote differently very often, particularly when you are viewed as having a personal interest in the issue,” Blankenship told The Hill. “I think you have to take it to the public.”


Failing some sort of international commitment to lower greenhouse gas emissions at Copenhagen, where do you think the Senate should go from there?

Obviously, where I think they should go is to leave it alone. The scary thing is the countries that would benefit from these bills being passed in the United States are the countries we are depending on to basically frustrate the passage. … If the U.S. ends up passing cap-and-trade, China wins and the United States loses. I’m always fearful at some point in time there will be either an orchestrated effort or an epiphany in Asia where they realize [that by] agreeing to something that hurts the Western economy worst, that they will benefit.


You don’t think that man is having an influence on the climate?

I don’t think that climate change is an environmental issue. I think climate change is a normal course of history, that there is not any correlation that can be shown between man-made CO2 emissions and climate. … I’m not a scientist, but I look at the math and I can’t see the correlation. And then when I look at the math of passing cap-and-trade and limiting U.S. CO2 emissions, when you would increase not only non-CO2 emissions but even CO2 emissions by passage of [a] U.S. climate bill, I can’t find any mathematical logic to it.

There are a lot of scientists, though, that can see a lot of logic to it, who have looked at the models and say climate change is happening.

I don’t believe the scientists look at the mathematical logic to it. They’ve looked at different periods of history and geology and science and all this. They look at temperatures. But I don’t think they’ve looked at the math to produce a job or to produce $1 of [gross domestic product]. In Asia you are going to emit two to three to four times the CO2 as you do in the United States, so anytime you encumber U.S. emissions, you increase CO2 emissions around the world, unless you want to assume GDP around the world declines.


Do you think, politically, the train has left the station? There aren’t many people out there, at least publicly, saying the same thing you are.

Everybody talks about it being a political reality. I made a presentation on character and leadership on Concord University in West Virginia on Saturday and I told them people talk about character being what you do when no one else is looking. But the truth of the matter is character is doing that which is unpopular if it’s right, even if it causes you to be vilified.

It doesn’t matter to me too much what the political reality is, we still have to be truthful about it. I think it’s telling that so many of the politicians will say cap-and-trade won’t get dealt [with] next year because they will not want to take a vote on it in an election year, which basically says they don’t feel like they are representing the public’s views.


Have you gotten any reaction to the opinion piece you wrote for our paper, where you used Rep. Joe Wilson’s (R-S.C.) “You lie” remark in the context of global warming? Was it impolitic?

A little bit of a reaction. I know the congressional delegation from West Virginia and Kentucky watches everything I say. I had a talk with [Rep. Nick] Rahall [D-W.Va.] since then and he will allude to my harshness, or my directness, or my outrageousness, in some of the things I write and some of the things I say.

But I tell all those guys, and there’s humor in it, that if it weren’t for guys like me, the middle would be further to the left. They should be thankful they have someone out there who is being truthful and try to base it on math and try to look after the interests of the economy, and the interests of homeland security and the interests of jobs.


What’s your relationship with Democrats who represent your state in Congress?

Well, I know them. They recognize me as someone who speaks his mind. I think people get confused by my West Virginia accent ... that I am purely Republican. I’m actually just conservative. … I think the rest of industry is beginning to realize, though, that 40 Republicans in the Senate are what’s preventing such onerous regulations that you can’t survive.


It doesn’t seem like you are very active in D.C. and with lobbying. Why is that?

I don’t believe you can change the behavior of politicians by asking them to vote differently very often, particularly when you are viewed as having a personal interest in the issue. I think you have to take it to the public.…

But I’ve never walked into a senator’s office, told him what my view was, and had him change his view, so I don’t tend to spend a lot of my time doing that. If they vote the way you want them to vote and the public doesn’t see it your way, then all they are going to do is lose the next time anyway.


If something like the Waxman-Markey bill would pass, what would be the effect on your company?

In time, say something like 20, 25 years, it would probably cut our business in half. I think that would be true of coal in general.


You don’t have much faith that carbon sequestration is going to be a life preserver for the coal industry?

I think that carbon sequestration is only applicable in certain circumstances. A lot of the utilities won’t have the underground area to do it. The costs will be prohibitive. … Basically, spending capital to triple the costs of your product is bad business even if it works, and enviros will probably come after CCS [carbon capture and sequestration] if it begins to be very widespread.


Beyond not passing a climate change bill, what do you think Congress or the administration should do to support manufacturing jobs?

It’s interesting, it’s a subject where it clearly shows I’m not just a Republican or not just on the side of the Chamber … I think the idea that it is just going to be manufacturing jobs lost has already been disproven. The service jobs will also be lost. It will get so you go to dial 911 and get another country to call an ambulance ... white-collar jobs are no more protected than blue-collar jobs.

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