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Coal 'being destroyed' by Obama, energy executive says

Chris Dorst
Murray Energy President Bob Murray speaks Tuesday at Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Energy Summit at the Charleston Marriott Town Center.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Coal executive Bob Murray brought his criticism of President Obama to West Virginia on Tuesday, telling a state-sponsored energy conference that the mining industry is "being destroyed" by Obama and "his radical followers and supporters."

Murray, founder and president of Murray Energy, said hundreds of coal-fired power plants are closing around the country. He acknowledged that there is tough competition for coal from cheap natural gas, but he blamed the president, saying Obama is simply living up to a campaign promise to bankrupt the coal industry.

"Their efforts are accelerating," Murray told a crowd at the Charleston Marriott Town Center. "They are not decreasing."

Murray delivered the kickoff speech Tuesday morning at Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Energy Summit, an annual event that features mostly presentations from various energy company and trade association officials.

Earlier this month, Murray's company became a major player in West Virginia's coal industry when it bought five large underground mines in the northern part of the state from Pittsburgh-based CONSOL Energy. The 11-minute speech Tuesday was Murray's first major public appearance in West Virginia since the CONSOL deal closed on Dec. 5.

The $3.5 billion deal dramatically increased Murray's annual coal production, its coal reserves and its employees in what the Ohio-based company has called a "truly transformational event." Nationwide, Murray and its subsidiaries now employ about 7,100 workers.

The mines involved -- CONSOL's McElroy, Shoemaker, Blacksville, Loveridge and Robinson Run operations -- are five of the top six underground mines in West Virginia, with nearly 30 million tons of combined production in 2012, according to data filed with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Murray explained Tuesday that his firm will manage the former CONSOL operations through a company called Murray American Energy Inc. Individual mines, he noted, have been renamed after the counties in which they are located. The former McElroy Mine, for example, is now the Marshall County Coal Co.'s Marshall County Mine.

Murray also noted that all of his privately held company's coal comes from underground mines and that Murray Energy has no holdings in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, which he likened to "a giant sandbox with a 100-foot coal seam."

"We are strictly underground miners," Murray said.

Murray said that protecting the health and safety of his work force "is foremost," and said Murray Energy emphasizes fire protection and emergency preparedness at its operations.

Murray Energy owned the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah, where a series of collapses in August 2007 killed six miners and three rescue workers.

Last year, Murray Energy's Genwal Resources Inc., which operated Crandall Canyon, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City to two criminal violations of mandatory health and safety standards under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act. Murray Energy has said the deaths were the result of a "tragic seismic event," and that the violations were not the cause of the collapse.

Murray said he remains concerned about the impacts of Obama's policies on the coal industry. In the central Appalachian region, he said, 43 percent of the industry has been lost "and it will never come back."

"Mr. Obama's actions are a human issue to me," Murray said. "I know the names of those Americans whose jobs and family livelihoods are being destroyed as he appeases his radical environmentalist, unionist, liberal elitist, Hollywood character and other constituencies that got him elected.

"These folks whose lives are being destroyed, ladies and gentlemen, are my employees," he said. "These people who just want to work are denied that, prohibited from working and go to the negative side of the economic ledger for the rest of their lives.

"This is not the America I cherish."

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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