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Honoring Beth Spence

WVEJ program coordinator Beth Spence with South regional director Kamau Franklin during the 2014 West Virginia Our Children Our Future Child Poverty Symposium. Photo: Bryan Vana / AFSC

West Virginia Economic Justice Project program coordinator Beth Spence began working for the AFSC in WV in 2002, but her connection goes back decades farther. A Logan, WV native and longtime collaborator with the AFSC program there, she did pioneering work on rural homelessness. She also helped the new Economic Justice Project get started in 1989.

Pursuit of truth, justice

Starting in 2006, she focused on coalfield issues. Her work on mine safety and exposing the misdeeds of coal giant Massey Energy had a huge impact. Massey was notorious for union busting, environmental impacts, safety issues, intimidation, and buying political influence.

Spence’s report on a 2006 fire which killed two miners helped result in the largest criminal fines levied on a corporation to that point and helped the widows win a legal settlement.

After the Upper Big Branch disaster, which killed 29 miners, Spence again served on Gov. Manchin’s investigative team. Her report made nationwide headlines. The ripples continue.

Former CEO Don Blankenship was forced out in 2010. Massey was bought by Alpha Natural Resources in 2011. Alpha had to spend over $200 million to settle liabilities, the largest fine ever assessed for a mine disaster. It also had to invest $48 million in mine safety. Several Massey officials have been convicted.

Making history

In November 2014, Blankenship was indicted on multiple federal charges related to UBB. Many items in the 40+ page indictment were documented in Spence’s report. The trial is now underway.

Blankenship’s indictment was historic. It is the first time that criminal charges of this kind have gone all the way up the corporate chain. According to AFSC WVEJ’s Rick Wilson, “We are very proud of Beth’s role in this and hope it sends a strong message to all those who play games with the lives of others.”

Spence retired at the end of 2014, but the effects of her work will be long-lasting.

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