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.

Legal Planet:

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.

Technology Review:

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.

Law 360:

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.”

13 Responses to “Coal CEO Personifies Big Fossil Freakout”

  1. Andy Lee Robinson Says:

    It’s not a War on Coal, it’s assisted anthracide!

    • dumboldguy Says:

      LOL. Since Murray thinks the government is like a huge and repressive cop, we could also liken it somewhat to “suicide by cop”? Burn coal on their beat and the EPA will shoot you like a dog? (somebody get video)

  2. Lionel Smith Says:

    Oh the poor of the world suffer from lack of coal fired electricity generation.

    I guess Murray has not heard of the Chinese recognition of the problem caused by coal.

    But then Murray is just taking a similar line to Matt Ridley in the UK who is aligned with the GWPF and just happens to have a working coal mine on his property.

  3. lracine Says:


    I wonder if maybe the reason they are going bankrupt has anything to do with their marginal production cost????? Heavens have mercy…….. could we be approaching “Peak Coal”…….

    I wonder if the steep drop off in US coal consumption, that started around 2008 has anything to do with our manufacturing decline and economy??? Hint… heavy industry…. GONE… and net decreased demand for electrical generation as a whole across the US.

    I wonder if the decline of electricity produced by coal has anything to do with the increased of cheap natural gas from all that fracking???? Hint go the EIA and look at the data…. increase in electrical generation for Natural Gas… which is inverse to the decline in coal generation…. also NG is much cheaper than coal… (for now)….

    So why didn’t the news reporter ask him these questions? Why didn’t she insist that he answer her other questions? Maybe because she understands that her audience is lacking in the critical thinking skills to follow the discussion…

    Ain’t American education a thing of beauty????

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Is this Louise speaking? If so, I will loudly say “Geez Louise” in response to this unwarranted attack on “American education”. If Louise wanted to do more than spout mindless rhetoric, she should go find that “educator” that didn’t teach her enough critical thinking skills and chastise them personally for letting her down.

      Any lack of critical thinking skills on the part of the citizenry is NOT the fault of American education. The unrelenting pressure of the media and corporate propaganda that pushes the consumer society 24/7/365 has far more weight than teachers who have our kids for only a portion of the day for a portion of the year, and those teachers spend much of that time teaching subject material that is simply facts, i.e., part of the body of knowledge of a subject, and not how to think.

      This “news” reporter didn’t ask those “other” questions or demand answers because she is part of that propaganda machine, not the truth-seeking machine that we so sorely need in our media. Attacking “American education” does not solve that problem.

      • lracine Says:

        According to a study conducted in late April by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read. That’s 14 percent of the population. 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read.

        The US Education System gets a D.

        19% of High School Graduates CANNOT READ!!!!!!!!!!!

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Yes, Louise, those figures are disturbing, and it’s too bad that, although you may be functionally literate, you seem to have a reading comprehension problem yourself (or suffer from a good dose of confirmation bias that gets in the way of rational thinking).

          I will repeat—-try to comprehend—- “Attacking “American education” does NOT solve that problem”, THAT problem now being the stats in your citation of the VERY FIRST HIT (out of 91,400,000) when one googles “literacy statistics”. Rather lazy of you, and unimpressive, IMO PS—that “late April” was in 2013, nearly 3 years ago.

          Nor can we blame poverty, hungry children, unwed mothers, high incarceration rates, gun violence, discrimination based on gender-race-sexual orientation, obesity, wealth and income inequality, or so many other ills in society on “American education”. Our society is sick, and the fact that SOME children are failing in some schools is a SOCIETAL problem, not a problem of “American education”.

          You get a D-.

  4. Lionel Smith Says:

    There is something ‘Jabba the Hutt’ about Bob Murray, what that makes Lamar akin to I am not sure, but here is Jabba Murray pushing the power grab meme.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Jabba? Yep. Murray also brings to mind images of the so-called “toad-like Yasser Arafat” (albeit a more bloated version), who also refused to accept reality.

      To carry that image a bit further, put a keffiyeh on Murray’s head and spray him with some of that good Trump-Boehner conservative tanning spray. Do the same with Don Blankenship of Massey Coal and (pick one) Lamer Smith, Loopy Gohmert, or Snowball Strom Inhofe. You’d then have a pretty good “Arafat toad-like” facsimile of the Three Stooges.

      I watched the half-hour of Murray’s maunderings in the clip of the meeting of Texas conservatives that Peter put in another post (the one he said to watch “if you could stand it”). A hard slog, but I got through it, and IMO Murray is going senile—-the power grab meme is ridiculous, as are many of his other statements—-like “SLR amounts to less than 3 sheets of paper” and his ranting about “quotes of Obama’s comments about Islam”.

      IMO, Murray is the nothing more than the prototypical greedy fat cat who will cling to his source of riches until it sinks beneath the waves, and do so at the expense of everyone else. He cares not one bit for the poor of the world who “need to burn coal” or his miners who will be out of work if coal goes down—-if there wasn’t $$$ in it for him we’d never have heard from him.

  5. As a non US citizen words fail me as to the how you people in USA have allowed your corporate media to sink to such a level of mendacious stupidity.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Yet another who comes here sniffing his perfumed sleeve hanky and spouting inane nonsense. Words fail you, Richard? What has really failed you here is various portions of of your left cerebral cortex. As a U.S. citizen (whose cognitive apparatus has not yet failed), let me ask you what country you reside in so that we can compare the relative levels of “mendacious stupidity” of our corporate media.

      The fact is that the key word here is “corporate”, and the corporate media is doing exactly what its masters want it to—-tell whatever lies are necessary to support runaway free-market capitalism, globalization, and the plutocracy that is at the root of all of our planetary problems. It is not something that “us people” in the USA can easily fight, and it is not confined to the USA—-please tell us about how wonderful things are in YOUR country so that we can emulate you.

      • Those ultimately responsible for the state of the US media (and political climate) are the US population. DOG, you sound as if you’d like to shift the blame elsewhere.
        As for corporate plutocracy, the US has done more to encourage it (and related neoliberal paradigms) to its current level of global hedgemony than any other nation or group of nations in history, and continues to do so. Learn to recognise your creations.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          You don’t read comments any more closely than Louise apparently, or you also suffer from confirmation bias that makes you attempt to put your words in my mouth. I recognize fully what a sad state the USA is in, and said nothing that could be interpreted as wanting to “shift blame anywhere”.

          The truth is that the path of human civilization going back millennia has all contributed to the present state of the USA and the entire planet, and you are guilty of more than a bit of hyperbole when you state “The US has done more to encourage it (and related neoliberal paradigms) to its current level of global hedgemony (sic) than any other nation or group of nations in history, and continues to do so”.

          Really? What about the British, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese who were busily colonizing, “corporatizing”, and plundering the planet hundreds of years before the USA was created? How about the Germans and the Japanese and that little party they conducted called WW2? How about the Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, and Romans? How we got to where we are today is a tangled web, and the USA may have done a lot of RECENT harm but has balanced that with a lot of “good” as well. (And remember that we did NOT invent capitalism).

          I will ask again, Richard—–what country are you a “non-US citizen” in? You seem like an “English” type? Are you a citizen of one of the major English-speaking countries—-the UK, Australia, Canada? No “mendacious stupidity” in the media or governments there, and no corporate sinners either —-except perhaps for Murdoch, Cameron, Abbot, and Harper, of course.

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