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Ohio Valley Coal Mine Executive Bob Murray Dead at 80

Erica Peterson

Robert E. Murray, the founder and former president and CEO of Murray Energy Corp., formerly the largest privately-held underground coal company in the country, has died. He was 80 years old. 

Murray’s death was reported Sunday evening by television stations WTOV9 in Steubenville, Ohio, and WOWK in Huntington, West Virginia. According to the news outlets, a spokesperson for the Murray family and a coal industry official confirmed his death.

Murray last week announced he was retiring as chairman of the board of American Consolidated Natural Resources, the newly formed coal company that emerged following the conclusion of Murray Energy’s bankruptcy process this summer. Last month, the Ohio Valley ReSourcereported the coal magnate had applied for federal black lung benefits. On his application, Murray wrote he was heavily dependent on the oxygen tank he was frequently seen using and was “near death.”

Murray was a larger-than-life and often divisive figure in the coal industry. He grew up in Ohio and got his first job cutting grass. He reportedly lied about his age so he could begin working in the mines as a teenager. Murray ascended through the ranks at The North American Coal Corporation taking over as president and CEO in 1983.

Murray earned a Bachelor of Engineering in Mining degree from The Ohio State University and graduated from the Advanced Management Program at Harvard University School of Business.  

In 1988, Murray founded Murray Energy. He told the Wall Street Journal he used a combination of loans and sold his “children’s toys” in order to buy one of his former employer’s mines in Ohio to begin the company, which would eventually grow to one of the largest coal producers in the country. 

Headquartered in St. Clairsville, Ohio, Murray Energy had a large presence in the Ohio Valley. The company produced low-cost bituminous coal at mines located close to its customers — largely coal-fired power plants. As coal-fired generators closed, that posed challenges for the company’s business model.

The company declared bankruptcy in October 2019, citing billions of dollars in debt, healthcare and pension liabilities. In filings, the company reported having more than a dozen active mines, largely in the Ohio Valley and Illinois Basin. Murray Energy gained notoriety following the 2007 collapse of the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah, which killed nine miners and rescuers. 

Murray, a Republican, has shared a close relationship with President Donald Trump. The coal executive donated $300,000 to the president’s inauguration. Weeks later, Murray shared a detailed “action plan” with administration officials that outlined a series of environmental rollbacks and policy changes that would benefit the U.S. coal industry. 

Murray, who was a vocal denier of human-caused climate change, donated extensively to groups that cast doubt on the global phenomenon. Records made public during the company’s bankruptcy process also showed Murray supported The Boy Scouts of America. 

In July, 2016, Murray was diagnosed as having idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or coal miner pneumoconiosis. In an interview with NPR in 2019, Murray said his lung disease was not caused by working underground in mines.

Murray is survived by his wife Brenda Lou Moore and three children.

Jeff Young is managing editor of the Ohio Valley ReSource, a journalism collaboration led by Louisville Public Media.

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