CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Former coal CEO Robert E. Murray, who has fought federal regulations on the industry, has filed an application with the U.S. Department of Labor for black lung benefits, according to a published report.
West Virginia Public Broadcasting and Ohio Valley ReSource report the former head of Murray Energy said on the form that he is still board chairman of the company but can no longer serve as president and CEO due to his health.
Murray has fought federal mine safety regulations for years. His company filed an unsuccessful lawsuit in 2014 over regulations to cut the amount of coal dust in coal mines to reduce the incidence of black lung disease, saying they were overly burdensome and costly to the industry.
Murray owned the Crandall Canyon Mine in Emery County, Utah, where two collapses in 2007 killed nine men — six who were trapped and three trying to rescue them. In one volatile news conference outside the mine, Murray vehemently defended the mining industry, went off on global warming and called out by name reporters and news outlets whose stories on the collapse he deemed nonfactual.
The government later fined Genwal Resources, the operator of the mine at the time, $1.34 million for violations that contributed to the deaths of six miners plus nearly $300,000 for other violations. In 2012, Genwal Resources admitted in federal court to misdemeanor criminal charges of violating federal mine health and safety laws, though the charges weren’t directly related to the fatal collapses. The company was fined $500,000.
In the black lung claim, Murray, 80, says he is heavily dependent on oxygen and is “near death.”
Murray Energy Holdings emerged last month from federal bankruptcy protection under a new name and ownership group.
The new company, St. Clairsville, Ohio-based American Consolidated Natural Resources Inc., is the largest privately owned U.S. coal operator with active mines in Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Utah.
West Virginia Public Broadcasting and Ohio Valley ReSource confirmed the authenticity of Murray’s claim documents by entering his last name, birthdate and a case ID number into an online portal maintained by the Labor Department. If the claim goes before an administrative law judge, some parts would become public.
Murray says in the claim that he worked underground while supervising operations for several years.
“During my 63 years working in underground coal mines, I worked 16 years every day at the mining face underground and went underground every week until I was age 75,” Murray wrote.
Murray declined to speak on the record with the news outlets, but said he has black lung from working in underground mines and is entitled to benefits. He also disputed that he fought regulations to stop black lung and threatened to file a lawsuit if a story was published indicating he fought federal regulations and benefits, the outlets said.
Murray told NPR last year that his lung disease was not caused by working in underground mines.
“It’s idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. IPF, and it is not related to my work in the industry. They’ve checked for that,” Murray told NPR. “And it’s not — has anything to do with working in the coal mines, which I did for 17 years underground every day. And until I was 76, I went underground twice a week.”