Coal CEO Personifies Big Fossil Freakout
March 30, 2016
I included a clip from Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray in my recent explainer on coal’s big crash, and some folks remarked on it. Here’s more.
Murray typifies the last holdouts for a fossil dominated electrical grid, old, rich white and clueless. The narrative they put forward, here gamely seconded by a Fox News host, is the so-called “War on Coal”. But there is no more a war on coal than there has been a war on buggy whips, typewriters, or film cameras. Better technology drives out obsolete methods – as has been said, “we did not leave the stone age because we ran out of stones.”
Murray likes to talk about what tender personal relationship he has with his employees – but press reports suggest there is some nuance to that.
The New Republic:
Over the years, CEO Robert Murray has brought in GOP pols from as far away as Alaska, California, and Massachusetts for fund-raisers. In 2010, the year John Boehner became House speaker, the firm’s 3,000 employees and their families were his second-biggest source of funds. (AT&T was in first place, but it has nearly 200,000 employees.) This year, Murray is one of the most important GOP players in one of the most important battleground states in the country. In May, he hosted a $1.7 million fund-raiser for Romney. Employees have given the nominee more than $120,000. In August, Romney used Murray’s Century Mine in the town of Beallsville for a speech attacking Barack Obama as anti-coal. This fall, scenes from that event—several dozen coal-smudged Murray miners standing behind the candidate in a tableau framed by a giant American flag and a COAL COUNTRY STANDS WITH MITT placard—have shown up in a Romney ad.
The ads aired even after Ohio papers reported what I was told by several miners at the event, a bit of news that an internal memo confirms: The crowd was not there of its own accord. Murray had suspended Century’s operations and made clear to workers that they were expected to attend, without pay. “I tell ya, you’ve got a great boss,” Romney said in acknowledging Robert Murray from the stage. “He runs a great operation here.”
The accounts of two sources who have worked in managerial positions at the firm, and a review of letters and memos to Murray employees, suggest that coercion may also explain Murray staffers’ financial support for Romney. Murray, it turns out, has for years pressured salaried employees to give to the Murray Energy political action committee (PAC) and to Republican candidates chosen by the company. Internal documents show that company officials track who is and is not giving. The sources say that those who do not give are at risk of being demoted or missing out on bonuses, claims Murray denies.
The Murray sources, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution, came forward separately. But they painted similar pictures of the fund-raising operation. “There’s a lot of coercion,” says one of them. “I just wanted to work, but you feel this constant pressure that, if you don’t contribute, your job’s at stake. You’re compelled to do this whether you want to or not.” Says the second: “They will give you a call if you’re not giving. . . . It’s expected you give Mr. Murray what he asks for.”
And what he asks for offers a lesson for 2012: Even in a year of hyperventilation about super PACs, dubious older ways of raising political dollars still matter.
Here’s the irony – the Supreme Court put a stay on implementation of the Clean Power Plan, the administration’s plan to clean up and phase out big co2 generators across the country. Further action awaits a decision in a lower court, but with the death of Antonin Scalia, the court is now likely to deadlock 4-4 on any such ruling – meaning lower court decisions will stand.
So what will happen going forward? First, the D.C. Circuit panel that will hear the case is a very good panel for the EPA, as Megan described here. Two of the judges are Democratic appointees and the third is a Republican one who has voted with EPA on several occasions. This group voted to deny the petition seeking to halt temporarily the implementation of the CPP, though of course was reversed by the Supreme Court. So the odds seem high that the D.C. Circuit will uphold the Clean Power Plan. The odds seem high not just because the judges are more liberal than the conservatives on the high Court but also because the default position for courts in reviewing agency regulations is to be deferential. As long as the regulations are a “reasonable” interpretation of the statutory language the agency is interpreting, a court should uphold the regulation. Justice Scalia was an outlier in voting to strike down regulations as unreasonable. Agencies typically prevail on such challenges.
Briefly, that’s because there are four possible outcomes:
1. President Obama successfully nominates and wins Senate approval for Scalia’s successor, tilting the ideological balance on the Court to five-to-four, liberals over conservatives, and all but guaranteeing that the Clean Power Plan will eventually be upheld.
2. No successor is named by the time the plan comes before the Supreme Court again; the federal district court in Washington, D.C., upholds the plan, again, as it did prior to the high court granting the current stay, meaning that a four-to-four deadlock would leave the lower court’s ruling in place (it’s possible, of course, that the appeals court would nullify the rule, but that’s highly unlikely given the D.C. court’s makeup and its previous rulings).
3. A new Democratic president chooses the next justice, leading to the same outcome as #1.
4. A new Republican president appoints the next justice, and the Clean Power Plan is scrapped.
The Republican-controlled Senate has vowed to fight any replacement proposed by President Barack Obama before he leaves office in January 2017. If filling Justice Scalia’s seat is left to the next president, the confirmation battle will be fierce, regardless of whether a Republican or Democrat occupies the White House.
Meanwhile, the D.C. Circuit has scheduled oral arguments in the Clean Power Plan case for June 2 and could issue a ruling as early as this fall. A Supreme Court writ of certiorari petition would likely follow in short order.
“With a 4-4 split, whatever the D.C. Circuit holds is, at least right now, unlikely to be reversed by the Supreme Court,” said Crowell & Moring LLP partner Tom Lorenzen, a former DOJ environmental assistant chief who is currently representing several CPP challengers. “The Supreme Court could try and hold the case as long as possible in order to get a full bench. But at some point, they’re going to have to resolve it.”
The deadlock potential also raises the already-high stakes in the D.C. Circuit, since a 4-4 split in the Supreme Court over the Clean Power Plan would mean the lower court’s ruling is automatically upheld.
“A Supreme Court split would leave the D.C. Circuit in the position of having its ruling be the final word,” said Bicky Corman, a former EPA deputy general counsel who recently joined Rubin & Rudman LLP. “It will make the D.C. Circuit opinion absolutely crucial.”