A Crusader in the Coal Mine, Taking On President Obama – by Jad Mouawad (New York Times – April 30, 2016)


ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio — The rolling hills of eastern Ohio show few signs of the frenzied activity unfolding hundreds of feet underground. Inside the Powhatan No. 6 mine, a machine the size of a city bus is slowly slicing the earth, scraping out coal and sending it on a 40-minute ride to the surface.

“It will see the light of day for the first time in 200 million years,” says Robert E. Murray, the 76-year-old chairman of the Murray Energy Corporation, rolling toward the coalface, where the coal is cut out of the rock, in an electric cart.

The digging occurs at the distant end of a forbidding maze of tunnels stretching more than 16 miles into the earth. The walls are coated with “rock dust,” or pulverized limestone, which acts as a fire retardant and gives the place a chalky, ethereal appearance. It is mostly silent but for the occasional whoosh of air venting from above.

This is a special place for Mr. Murray, who likes to tell the story of how he sold his children’s toys and mortgaged his home to acquire this mine — his first — nearly 30 years ago. He went on to build the nation’s largest independent coal producer by pioneering efficient new technologies like longwall mining, where the cavern ultimately collapses in on itself after yielding considerably more coal than traditional underground mining methods.

Mr. Murray is also the architect of the most serious challenge to the Obama administration’s environmental goals, particularly its policy on climate change. He has filed more than a half dozen lawsuits against the administration, including several challenging its landmark policy to curb greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. In February, he scored a big victory when the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the administration’s plan until an appeals court can consider an expedited challenge this summer.

The expansion of its mining business at a time of deep industry disillusionment, coupled with an activist agenda, has made Murray Energy one of the leading forces combating environmental regulations. And it has made Mr. Murray a galvanizing champion of a once dominant industry fallen on hard times.

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