Excerpt from Jane Mayer's amazing and jaw-dropping profile of Mitch McConnell in The New Yorker on April 12, 2020, "How Mitch McConnell Became Trump’s Enabler-in-Chief":
According to “60 Minutes,” McConnell and Chao helped another coal company skirt responsibility for one of the biggest environmental disasters in U.S. history. In 2000, Jack Spadaro, an engineer for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, began conducting an investigation in Martin County, Kentucky, after a slurry pond owned by Massey Energy burst open, releasing three hundred million gallons of lavalike coal waste that killed more than a million fish and contaminated the water systems of nearly thirty thousand people. Spadaro and his team were working on a report that documented eight apparent violations of the law, which could have led to charges of criminal negligence and cost Massey hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. But, that November, George W. Bush was elected President, and he soon named Chao his Labor Secretary, giving her authority over the Mine Safety and Health Administration. She chose McConnell’s former chief of staff, Steven Law, as her chief of staff. Spadaro told me, “Law had his finger in everything, and was truly running the Labor Department. He was Mitch’s guy.” The day Bush was sworn in, Spadaro was ordered to halt his investigation. Before the Labor Department issued any fines, Massey made a hundred-thousand-dollar donation to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. McConnell himself had run the unit, which raises funds for Senate campaigns, between 1997 and 2000.
Massey ended up paying only fifty-six hundred dollars in federal fines. Law went on to run a cluster of outside money groups, including the Senate Leadership Fund, One Nation, American Crossroads, and Crossroads GPS, which have collectively given millions of dollars to the Senate campaigns of McConnell and other Republicans.
A spokesman for Chao says that the department levied many more fines on coal mines during her tenure, and that “she was always concerned about coal miners’ jobs as well as their health and safety.” But Spadaro told me he has no doubt that McConnell “made sure the report was essentially suppressed.” He noted, “Massey gave a lot of money to McConnell over the years. McConnell’s very bright. He took the money and, in return, protected the coal industry. He’s truly the most corrupt politician in the U.S.” Records show that, between 1990 and 2010, McConnell was the recipient of the second-largest amount of federal campaign donations from people and pacs associated with Massey. And when McConnell ran the National Republican Senatorial Committee it took in five hundred and eighty-four thousand dollars from the coal industry.
Nina McCoy, a retired teacher who lives in Martin County, told me, “Our own senator’s wife basically shut down the investigation. Our community from then on knew all those people protected the coal companies instead of us.”
…Two decades since the Massey slurry-pond disaster, the coal industry has collapsed, barely employing five thousand people statewide, but the region’s water remains tainted. McConnell takes credit for recently delivering several million dollars in federal funds to the area for water-infrastructure improvements, but William Brandon Halcomb, a property manager who lives there, told me that the situation is still “horrible.” Shortly before we spoke, there had been no water for three weeks. He keeps a bucket tied to a bridge, which he lowers into the creek below when he needs water to flush a toilet. He must drive to another county to buy clean water. “You get a gallon, heat it on the stove, and take a trucker’s bath,” he said. “A wash-off is all you can do.” As covid-19 spreads, the health hazards posed to Americans who can’t reliably wash their hands are obvious.