March 26, 2017
As the U.S. energy economy shifts away from coal, Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray has emerged as one of the most outspoken and litigious defenders of his industry.
He is founder of the St. Clairsville company, which is the largest coal producer in the state and, by some measures, the largest in the country. His Ohio assets include two giant underground mines in Belmont County.
To his critics, who include environmental and mine-safety advocates among many others, he is a obstructionist whose actions are harming the planet.
Murray, 77, was the lead plaintiff in several lawsuits against the Obama administration and a passionate supporter of Donald Trump. He believes Trump can help to halt coal's decline, but he says the president and the industry need to have realistic expectations and know that any improvement will be gradual.
The following are excerpts of questions and answers from a recent interview.
The Dispatch: How are you feeling these days about where the coal market stands?
Robert Murray: Mixed feelings. The destruction of the last eight years under Barack Obama and the Democrats has permanently and severely destroyed reliable and affordable electricity in the United States. ...
I have great compassion for working men and women, people who actually work and produce something for our country. Those are my coal miners. ... These people just want to work in honor and dignity. They've been denied that right. I had 8,400 employees on May 1, 2015. We went down to about 5,000. We're about 6,000 now. It's been a terrible destruction. Of course, I'm encouraged by the election of President Donald Trump. It was a victory for the working men and women of this country. ...
Can the coal industry be brought back? The answer is, I've suggested to President Trump that he temper his expectations.
How do you see the competition between coal and natural gas?
There are two reasons the coal industry has been driven from 1.2 billion tons a year to about 750 million. The first is the regulatory rampage of the Obama administration and his supporters, the Democrats. The second reason is the competition from natural gas against coal. ... With the development of the Utica and Marcellus shale in eastern Ohio and Pennsylvania ... gas has been competing with coal and displacing coal, not because it's cheaper than coal, but because of the regulations on coal.
Just give me the ball. Get the government out of picking winners and losers. Give us a level playing field, and we can compete with gas all day long.
When I chart coal production and coal employment, there was this growth in automation where things became much more efficient and you needed fewer people. What do you see happening?
This is my 60th year mining coal. ... If you go back over my career, the improvement in productivity in the mines ended in the late-1990s and early 2000s. Since then, the decline (in jobs) has been because of the decline of coal usage. ... We couldn't get it more efficient. I have the most-efficient mines. That's why we have the best company left.