Mining Mogul Murray Gets Coal in His Stocking—and Wants More

Updated on
  • Murray Energy CEO has lengthy list of priorities for Trump
  • One-third of his wish list has already been ‘cleaned up’

Murray Says Senate Tax Bill Will Cost Him $60 Million

The day after Donald Trump’s election, coal mogul Robert E. Murray praised him in Biblical terms, saying the Republican had the courage and zeal to put miners back to work. 

“God picked the most imperfect people on the planet to carry out his will,” the chief executive officer of Murray Energy Corp. said at the time. “Who better than Donald Trump?”

More than a year after his election, the president hasn’t disappointed. Trump has already “cleaned up” more than one-third of a three-and-a-half page list of policy proposals that Murray gave the White House, the coal executive said in an interview. He’s hardly been the only energy executive pushing Trump to shift U.S. policies more in favor of fossil fuels, but few have been as vocal.

Here’s a look at what Murray asked for, and what the Trump administration and policy makers have done so far:

Early Victories

  • One of Murray’s early wins came in February, when Trump signed legislation repealing the Obama-era Stream Protection Rule, which was designed to protect America’s waterways from the effects of mining. Murray had argued the measure was so broad it could block mining under any site with a “dry ditch” on the surface.
  • Murray called on Trump to pull out of the Paris climate accord. In June, Trump announced he’d withdraw. (Technically, the U.S. can’t exit the deal for several years.)
  • Killing environmental rules impacting coal plants was also on the miner’s wish list. The Environmental Protection Agency has postponed deadlines for power plants to install pollution controls, and the agency is unwinding the sweeping Clean Power Plan. 
  • He called to end tax breaks for wind and solar power, and both current versions of the Republican tax plan have language that could hurt the clean-energy industry.

Murray downplays his influence. While Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordered a study of the power grid’s “reliability and resiliency” after the coal executive suggested a similar move, Murray said he had nothing to do with Perry’s call for energy regulators to subsidize coal and nuclear power plants.

Still, Murray hailed Perry’s proposed rule, which is now being reviewed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It’s the “single best” political action in his 61-year career, Murray said in the interview last month.

In the Works

There’s still plenty left on Murray’s to-do list. At a November event in Washington hosted by The Heritage Foundation and Texas Public Policy Foundation, Murray outlined more goals:

  • Ensure no new taxes on mining or burning coal. Murray blasted the Senate’s version of the tax bill for not repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax. He urged implementation of the House version that does.
  • Eliminate the EPA’s Coal Combustion Residuals rule, which regulates how power plants dispose of ash, slag and other waste. The EPA is reconsidering the policy.
  • Overhaul the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, which Murray calls a “distraction” that has prevented his company from conducting some of its own inspections and training. As of Nov. 30, the number of federal coal-mine inspectors had fallen over the past year, according to MSHA.
  • Appoint federal judges that won’t -- in Murray’s words -- “attempt to redefine” the U.S. Constitution. 
  • Invest in “clean coal” research. Murray doesn’t favor spending on carbon-capture technologies, which he regards as “neither practical nor economic.” In October, Perry’s department announced $12 million in funding for power-plant projects designed to “enable the expanded use of coal.”
  • Overturn the EPA’s Endangerment Finding stipulating that greenhouse-gas emissions threaten public health. This month, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said the Obama administration rushed its analysis finding climate change is a risk to human health.
  • End regulations curbing ozone pollution as well as “maximum achievable technology” rules for power plants. Congress is working on bills that would push back implementation of more stringent ozone regulations.
  • Reform the EPA’s New Source Review program, in an effort to ease maintenance and upgrades to coal power plants, potentially lengthening their lives. In a Dec. 7 memo, Pruitt said the agency would ease up on enforcing the program.

The Road Ahead

Here’s the rest of Murray’s wish list:

  • Eliminate the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime rule, which dictates that most workers receive at least time-and-a-half pay for working more than 40 hours a week.
  • Overturn or modify the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution rule, which requires states to reduce power-plant emissions that contribute to smog and soot in other states downwind. 
  • Revise the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s Coal Dust Rule, which protects miners from black lung disease. Murray argues that it’s “arbitrary” and “provides no health benefit.” 
  • Pass legislation to fund medical care and pensions for retired members of the United Mine Workers of America union.
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