A former coal company executive who was convicted for conspiracy to violate federal mine safety laws is running for the Senate in West Virginia.
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Don Blankenship was CEO of Massey Energy Co. at the time of a 2010 disaster at its Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 miners. He was later convicted of charges stemming from the probe into the explosion.
Conrad Lucas, chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party, confirmed Wednesday that Blankenship is running. Charleston, W.Va., television station WCHS first reported the news, saying Blankenship had filed paperwork for the race.
Blankenship will face West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Rep. Evan JenkinsEvan Hollin JenkinsWest Virginia New Members 2019 Republican Carol Miller holds off Democrat in West Virginia House race Trump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report MORE in the Republican primary.
If he wins the GOP nomination, he will face incumbent Democrat Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump administration seeks to use global aid for nuclear projects Shelley Moore Capito wins Senate primary West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice wins GOP gubernatorial primary MORE, who was governor at the time of the disaster and a leading figure in denouncing Blankenship. Blankenship, in turn, has charged that Manchin was central to a political campaign against him.
Blankenship is a high-profile figure in West Virginia, due largely to his leadership at Massey, the disaster, his conviction and his frequent claims that the conviction was purely political and he is innocent.
He claims that the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration caused the disaster by requiring workers to reduce ventilation, causing a surge of natural gas that fueled the explosion. Government investigators dismissed the theory and concluded that the company did not clean up coal dust sufficiently, leading to the blast.
Blankenship was also an outspoken opponent of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE’s presidential campaign and has repeatedly pressed President Trump to reopen the investigation into the 2010 mine disaster.
Blankenship was sentenced last year to a year in prison, which he served in California. He appealed his conviction all the way to the Supreme Court, but was unsuccessful at every turn.
He is currently prohibited from leaving Nevada until May 2018. He has a house in Nevada and is under federal supervision as a condition of his conviction.
–This report was updated at 12:17 p.m.