Coal company CEO Bob Murray handed the newly inaugurated President Trump with an "action plan" last January for reviving his slumping industry.
Nine months later, the Trump White House has worked its way through almost half of Murray’s wish list.
"[President Trump has] gone down that action plan, not because of me but because of what they wanted to do," Murray said in a phone interview yesterday. "Cleaned up about a page and a half of those first 3 ½ pages."
The 77-year-old Murray Energy Corp. CEO declined to provide a copy of his action plan, but he highlighted a dozen or so policies he wants axed or whittled down. He expressed hope that the U.S. EPA endangerment finding on climate change is next on the administration’s chopping block.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt — whom Murray calls a "star" — is poised to fulfill one of the coal executive’s wishes today by moving to dismantle President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Murray said he doesn’t want a replacement for the plan.
Murray also praises Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who recently asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to impose energy market reforms to make stockpiling and burning fossil fuels more profitable. Perry’s proposal, Murray said, is the strongest lifeline for coal mines and fossil plants.
"It’s the single greatest action that has been taken in decades to support low-cost reliable electric power in the United States," he said. "It has to happen."
After declining to say whether he weighed in on Perry’s proposal, Murray said FERC "will" act given the nation’s grid-reliability crisis in the face of severe cold snaps like the 2014 polar vortex.
But Perry’s request faces fierce opposition.
FERC’s newest member, Republican Robert Powelson, a former regulator from the gas-rich state of Pennsylvania, said last week he would refuse to "blow up the markets" by implementing Perry’s proposal. And former FERC Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur, the panel’s lone Democrat, welcomed his remarks.
Murray is putting his faith in FERC’s new Republican chairman, Neil Chatterjee. Murray said he has a relationship with Chatterjee stemming from the new chairman’s days as an aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from the coal-heavy state of Kentucky.
"Let’s hope [Chatterjee] supports the coal industry. He’s indicated that he will," Murray said. "What we’re asking them to do is get a reliable, resilient power grid, not blow up anything."
‘Coal to him is working people’
Murray first met Trump at Trump Tower in May 2016, a few days after The New York Times ran a feature about the former coal boss, "A Crusader in the Coal Mine, Taking on President Obama."
"When I walked into his office, he picked up that paper and said, ‘That’s you,’" Murray recalled. "We had a 50-minute talk and have talked a lot since then."
Up to that point, Murray said he had supported Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the Republican presidential primary race but soon was swayed by Trump’s focus on "working people," which included coal miners.
"Coal to him is working people," Murray said.
Trump indeed has taken on the woes of the coal industry — in both campaign promises and now his policy goals.
In addition to scrapping carbon regulations, lifting a ban on new federal coal leasing and dismantling a rule seeking to prevent polluted water from coal mines flowing into streams, Trump has also tapped Murray’s longtime former lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, to serve as No. 2 at EPA.
To be sure, Murray was dealt a blow earlier this year after the Trump administration declined a request he and FirstEnergy Corp. CEO Chuck Jones made to obtain a Department of Energy designation to stave off the closure of several FirstEnergy coal plants.
Murray Energy repeatedly warned White House officials it would go bankrupt without those plants, which sustain many of its mines in Appalachia.
But Murray now says Perry’s FERC request would achieve the same result.
The coal executive expects a direct boost for his 13 mines when utilities like FirstEnergy that burn his fuel are compensated for storing 90 days’ worth of fuel in barges, at mines and even on-site at the plants — all in the name of withstanding extreme weather events.
"Some say it would be hard to have 90 days, but no, it’s easy. You can store it in barges, you can store it at the mines, you can store it at the plants," Murray said. "It’s an excuse when they say you can’t do it. It’s just an argument, an excuse."
Obama officials ‘were outlaws’
A public critic of climate science, Murray rejects the finding that carbon dioxide is a pollutant.
As far as the father of three is concerned, humans aren’t affecting the climate or hurricanes. Climate change, as he sees it, is more about politics and less about science.
For that reason, Murray says the Clean Power Plan should be scrapped with no replacement and the endangerment finding repealed.
Congress, he insist, never intended for CO2 to be regulated under the Clean Air Act and blames Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy for enabling the regulation in 2007’s Massachusetts v. EPA.
Although Murray’s name appears on Pruitt’s private calendar in March, the coal executive said he couldn’t remember what they discussed and declined to provide details.
Murray was in attendance last week at the Trump International Hotel Washington D.C. where Perry spoke to the National Mining Association’s board of directors meeting (Greenwire, Oct. 9).
Asked whether the Trump administration would move to reverse the endangerment finding, Murray said Pruitt in the past has signaled an openness to the idea.
"What he said was it’s something that could be or should be reviewed, but he never told me with certainty what he was going to do," Murray said. "Never."
Murray said he’s on board with Pruitt’s desire to hold a televised debate on climate science with two teams of scientists, an effort that has yet to materialize.
Such debates, he said, could shed more light on the "science of so-called climate change" that Democrats claim is settled.
What doesn’t fuel his interest is having an Obama-era Energy Department official, Steve Koonin, lead the effort, as some former transition officials have urged (Climatewire, Aug. 7).
"I’m skittish about anyone from the Obama administration. … They were outlaws," Murray said. "Putting anyone from the Obama administration in charge of anything is still a scary specter."
Reporter Dylan Brown contributed.