Mine Owner Faces Old Foes After Collapse

Murray has taken on politicians, labor unions and global warming.

January 8, 2009, 1:43 AM

Aug. 8, 2007— -- Bob Murray, chairman of Murray Energy, does not have a reputation for keeping his opinions to himself.

As six miners who work at a Utah coal mine that his company co-owns and operates remained trapped 1,500 feet underground Tuesday, Murray was on the offensive, insisting it was an earthquake and not dangerous mining procedures that had led to the collapse.

Murray, a former miner who survived two accidents on the job before mortgaging his home to found his company, has in the past taken on politicians pushing for more stringent safety measures, the environmental lobby and labor unions.

In the aftermath of Monday's collapse at Crandall Canyon mine in Emery County, Utah, some of those old foes, including a U.S. senator, have offered new rebukes.

After last year's Sago mine disaster in which 12 men were trapped and killed in West Virginia, Murray opposed legislation by lawmakers there and in his home state of Ohio that would require miners to wear emergency tracking devices.

Murray called the proposed legislation "extremely misguided" and accused the politicians of "playing politics with my employees' safety," the Columbus Dispatch reported.

Before the mine collapse, the businessman was most well known as a staunch detractor of global warming.

"The science of global warming is suspect," Murray told the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in June.

"Climate change or the so-called global warming issue is a human one," he said. "Reducing carbon emissions will impact our poorest families worst. All you are doing with this Draconian legislation is destroying American families' standard of living, their ability to have jobs, and export jobs to China."

At the hearing, Murray had a heated exchange with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., over clean coal technology.

"Instead of actively fighting those working for cleaner coal, the one thing Murray should now focus on is workers' safety. That should be his only priority," Boxer told ABCNEWS.com.

In a May editorial, Murray wrote in MarketWatch: "While some want us to believe that the science behind so-called global warming is certain, to the contrary, the actual environmental risk associated with carbon emissions is highly speculative."

At a news conference Tuesday, Murray announced it could take three days for emergency workers to rescue the trapped miners and denied reports that the mine accident was a result of a dangerous procedure called "retreat mining."

He insisted the collapse resulted from an earthquake and accused the United Mine Workers of America labor union of propelling the story about retreat mining in an attempt to organize more workers.

"These individuals have given very false statements. They know nothing about the damage in the mine or the rescue efforts that are under way. I caution the media to very much question the veracity of these sources," Murray said of the UMWA.

Seismologists initially reported Monday that a magnitude 3.9 earthquake was responsible for the collapse, but later said it was the collapse itself that their instruments had measured.

"There is no evidence that the earthquake triggered the mine collapse," Walter Arabasz, the director of the University of Utah's seismography stations, told the media.

The UMWA has claimed, and media agencies have reported, that the mine was damaged as a result of a practice called retreat mining, in which the pillars of coal holding up the mine's roof are excavated after all the coal between the columns has been removed.

"Retreat mining had nothing to do with the disaster," Murray said at Tuesday's news conference. "It was primary mining on the advance. … There are eight solid pillars where the men are right now. … I'm not going to respond to retreat mining anymore. It was invented by people with motives to damage the coal industry."

"The UMWA is trying to organize the mine," he said.

Workers at the Crandall Canyon mine do not belong to a union.

The UMWA said it represented workers at six mines owned by Murray, but now only represents one.

"He is a difficult guy to deal with on a rational basis," Phil Smith, the union's spokesman, told ABCNEWS.com.

Despite criticism from the union and hundreds of safety complaints filed with the federal government, experts said the mine had received fewer complaints than most mines of the same size across the country.

According to the Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration, the mine had a record of 300 safety violations, of which 118 resulted in injury.

There has only been one death at the mine in the last 12 years.

Murray Energy, a privately held company, owns one quarter of the mine, but runs its operation. Another quarter is owned by Utah Energy Inc. and the other half by Mountain Power Agency.

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