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More participants in UBB film say they were misled

By Dave Boucher, Capitol Bureau Chief

Sen. Joe Manchin isn’t the only one who claims he was misled into participating in a film bankrolled by former Massey Energy boss Don Blankenship.

Professors Tom Hethmon and Kim McCarter, both of the University of Utah’s Center for Mining Safety and Health Excellence, and Martin Hertzberg, who calls himself the “explosion expert,” were interviewed in the film.

All three said they did not know about Blankenship’s involvement in the project and would not have participated if they had.

“As a condition of our participation in the film, the filmmakers promised us that the documentary for which we were interviewed was about the advancement of mine safety standards in this country, and that Don Blankenship had no involvement, financial or otherwise, in the film’s production,” Hethmon and McCarter said in a joint statement late Tuesday.

Hertzberg said he didn’t know of Blankenship’s involvement, but said “a colleague” recently told him Blankenship was looking for a consultant to review all reports on the explosion.

He said he told the colleague he would not work for Blankenship.

The 51-minute film, called “Upper Big Branch: Never Again” and made by Chesapeake, Va.-based Adroit Films, deals largely with what Blankenship argues caused the explosion.

“No I have no comment as I don’t have any direct knowledge of the facts,” Blankenship told the Daily Mail Tuesday, when asked about the allegations regarding the filmmakers.

Adroit did not return a Daily Mail request for comment Monday or answer a late call Tuesday.

On April 5, 2010, an explosion killed 29 miners working at the UBB mine, located in the Raleigh County community of Montcoal.

Blankenship was the CEO of Massey Energy at the time, and has denied any wrongdoing by himself or the company.

He maintains a combination of natural gas and a poor ventilation system forced on the mine by the federal Mine and Safety Health Administration led to the explosion.

Three reports -- one from MSHA, one from the state of West Virginia and an independent team led by ex-federal coal official J. Davitt McAteer -- all lay the blame on a culture that put profits before safety. They found unsafe levels of methane, coal dust and poor ventilation led to the explosion.

Blankenship recently announced he was funding a film about “what really happened” at the mine. Released Monday, it featured Hethmon, McCarter, Hertzberg, Manchin and others who seemed to either bolster Blankenship’s argument or otherwise promote his version of events.

Immediately after the film’s release Manchin said the filmmakers lied to him and he would not have provided an interview had he known Blankenship was involved. Tuesday morning his office announced they sent a letter to a producer working with Adroit Films requesting the film be removed from the Internet and his interviews be removed from the film.

A spokesman for Manchin said late Tuesday the office had not yet heard a response.

In a series of tweets Tuesday, Blankenship accused Manchin of attempting to censor him and his findings.

“(Manchin) thinks this is about his feelings. It’s not. It’s about miner safety and jobs,” Blankenship tweeted.

While Hertzberg — one of the more prominent figures in the film — said his views were appropriately presented, Hethmon and McCarter said theirs were not.

“We do concur with what we believe to be the consensus position in our country, that there is need to evolve current federal standards for mine safety,” the professors said in a joint statement.

“However, we believe that our interviews were used in such a way that all of our views were not accurately portrayed.”

McCarter added he was “flabbergasted” when he learned of Blankenship’s involvement and after watching the film, first provided to him by the Daily Mail.

McCarter and Hethmon also want their interviews removed and said they “are consulting with counsel regarding options to enforce the commitments made to us regarding the film.”

Hethmon, McCarter and Hertzberg all said they were not compensated in any way to appear in the film.

Text at the start of the film says none of the people interviewed is in association with Blankenship, but Hertzberg also said he was retained by Charleston-based law firm Jackson Kelly to investigate the causes of the explosion.

Massey and several ex-Massey officials also retained Jackson Kelly attorneys in the wake of the explosion.

There are at least two ex-Massey officials, including former company leader E. Morgan Massey, in the film.

Blankenship says the film was created to honor the memory of the victims. Mari-Lynn Evans, a well known West Virginia environmental filmmaker, doubts his motives.

“It’s just, I don’t know how aware he is of how hurtful and insulting this is to the family members of the men who died,” said Evans, adding she had seen the film.

She thought the release of the film the week of the four-year anniversary was particularly insulting.

Evans plans to release a taped interview Friday with Dr. Judy Peterson, the sister of one of the UBB victims. The interview is part of her film “Blood on the Mountains” which will be released in full in the fall.

Evans said Peterson would release a statement along with the interview.

They haven’t determined where they’ll post the interview yet, but Evans said it will be widely available.

Blankenship’s film was still available on YouTube as of late Tuesday.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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