Coal Miner Murray Said to Plan 1,800 Layoffs Amid Slump

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Murray Energy Corp., the closely held U.S. coal miner founded and run by Robert E. Murray, plans to lay off a quarter of its workers -- about 1,800 people -- amid a slump in demand, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The plan hasn’t been finalized as talks with union representatives are continuing, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the information hasn’t yet been made public.

The cuts would add to the thousands of coal jobs already lost across the U.S. amid the industry’s worst downturn in decades. Thermal coal used by power plants is under heavy pressure from low-cost natural gas and tougher emissions standards.

Even so, Murray has expanded rapidly in recent years, buying the West Virginia coal operations of Consol Energy Inc. for $3.25 billion in December 2013 and a 50 percent stake in Foresight Energy LP -- one of the Illinois coal basin’s largest producers -- and related assets this spring for $1.37 billion.

Robert Murray -- a frequent and vocal critic of President Barack Obama’s administration for actions he views as anti-coal -- has repeatedly cast his recent acquisitions as strategic plays for bright spots in a beleaguered and shrinking industry.

“This is the most dangerous time that I have observed in the coal industry in my 58-year career in it,” Murray said Thursday in prepared remarks for an industry event in Pennsylvania. “Under the present situation, you will see a number of America’s coal companies financially fail in the months ahead, and some already have.”

St. Clairsville, Ohio-based Murray has been employing about 7,500 people in six states, according to the company website. It mines coal at operations in its home state and also in Illinois and West Virginia.

The layoffs were reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal.