Bob Murray paid for science denial instead of his coal workers’ wages as company went bankrupt

While his company spiraled into bankruptcy, Robert Murray spent tens of millions from the company coffers to pay himself, his successor, and several anti-science and anti-environment lobby groups, according to new court filings.

This money was spent at the same time as Murray is asking courts to excuse his debts to his workers, in the form of pensions and healthcare plans.

The court filings have been reported on by New York Times, E&E News and The Intercept.

Murray is founder of Murray Energy, America’s largest privately owned coal company. He stepped down as the company’s CEO in October, when Murray Energy filed for bankruptcy. He was succeeded by his nephew, Robert Moore.

The bankruptcy is a response to dropping coal demand, which has been happening at an increasing pace for more than a decade. Coal is being replaced by cleaner, cheaper energy sources. Coal plants are being closed nationwide, and nobody in the US is building new coal generation capacity.

In that bankruptcy, Murray Energy is asking for a “restructuring” of $2.7 billion worth of debt and $8 billion worth of obligations. Most of these debts and obligations are in the form of pension and benefit plans for the company’s union workers. About half of Murray’s 5,000 employees are union members.

According to filings this week in Ohio, where Murray energy is headquartered, Murray paid himself $14 million and his successor $4 million, even as they presided over the complete failure of their company. The average starting salary for a coal miner is about $60,000.

Murray also spent nearly $1 million funding dark-money groups associated with denying basic science in a desperate attempt to save his failing industry.

Here’s a partial list of the rogues’ gallery of groups that Murray paid:

  • The Heartland Institute, a lobby group that has stated that climate change is a good thing, and that people who accept the scientific consensus on climate change are as bad as the Unabomber. They also declare that smoking cigarettes isn’t bad for you.
  • The Competitive Enterprise Institute, where Myron Ebell, prominent science denier and former head of Trump’s EPA transition team, is a director. They were a main public voice supporting the EPA’s rollback of fuel economy standards, even when industry was asking them to leave the rules in place.
  • “Government Accountability and Oversight,” which is not affiliated with the legitimate government organization called the “Government Accountability Office.” This is a for-profit group that has been funded by the coal industry as revealed in other coal companies’ bankruptcy proceedings. The group seems to primarily exist to harass state attorneys general for filing lawsuits against the EPA. Their leader, Chris Horner, was also on the EPA transition team and has appeared on Infowars. Infowars is a conspiracy theory network that has blamed the government for “turning the friggin’ frogs gay” (yes, actual quote).
  • The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, and the International Climate Science Coalition. Both of these groups say fossil fuel emissions are good because carbon dioxide is what plants crave.
  • A group called Hardworking Ohioans Inc. that successfully slandered an Ohio state congressional candidate with a false ad suggesting he was caught driving under the influence of alcohol. Murray spent this money fighting that candidate rather than on the actual “hardworking Ohioans,” of which he is trying to weasel out of paying pension obligations.
  • FreedomWorks and the Cato Institute. Both of these groups are affiliated with the Koch brothers, who have pushed numerous misinformation campaigns opposing electric cars. Charles Koch was one of the founders of the Cato Institute. FreedomWorks, while not directly founded by the Kochs, split off from a group they did found called Citizens for a Sound Economy. The brothers went on to found a separate group with the remainder of CSE, called Americans for Prosperity. (Update: Koch PR contacted us to straighten up the Kochs’ association with these two groups, which we have edited the article to reflect. Notably, Koch PR did not attempt to “correct” the phrase “misinformation campaigns.” We are glad that everyone is now on the same page about the Koch brothers’ lies)
  • Judicial Watch, a group that harasses climate scientists and has pushed many other conspiracy theories.
  • The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, a group that pushed a documentary mocking climate science and has filed legal briefs opposing the EPA’s authority to enforce the Clean Air Act.

All of these financial relationships were meant to remain a secret. None of this would be known if not for the bankruptcy, which has forced these records into the public. Over the relevant time period, Murray became one of the largest single funders of these groups.

It should also be noted that Andrew Wheeler, the current head of the Environmental “Protection” Agency, is a former lobbyist for Murray.

None of this spending on Murray’s part seems to have stopped the demise of coal, as evidenced by his company’s bankruptcy (and many others this year alone). However, it likely did contribute to public confusion and lack of understanding of basic climate science.

These efforts have likely resulted in a slower solution to pollution problems that people all over the world are facing. Currently, fossil fuels as a whole are killing between 4 million and 9 million people per year, and the burning of fossil fuels is subsidized by $5 trillion per year globally. Coal is a primary contributor to this pollution, alongside oil and gas. Groups funded by Murray also act as oil and gas advocates.

Electrek’s Take

Nobody should be happy that Murray decided to spend his money on giving himself bonuses and funding groups that advocate against science and in favor of more harm to humanity instead of paying his workers.

Presumably none of his workers, who were not responsible for leading the company into bankruptcy, received similar $14 million bonuses as he did. Neither did they receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses like the payments he gave to the above firms.

These groups mostly do not exist to win the argument with actual science. They simply want to muddy the water, to create an appearance that there is legitimate debate, that there are “two sides” to the scientific truth that the climate is changing as a result of human overconsumption, particularly of fossil fuels.

This “debate” will likely come up in the comments below, but note that Electrek is not a forum for spreading falsehoods about science.

Instead of giving donations to groups that seek to harm humanity, Murray might have spent more time focusing on how to make his company ready for the future. Diversifying to better, cheaper, cleaner energy sources could have done something for him and for his company.

But through his mismanagement and stubbornness, trying to save an already-dead industry, begging the government for welfare instead of getting ready for the future, he’s hurt the livelihood of his workers. And presided over one of the industry’s largest failures.

At least he’ll get his golden parachute, while the workers whose black lungs he profited off of have to wait on the edge of their hospital beds until this bankruptcy is sorted out, to see if their healthcare costs will still be covered or if another fat coal baron will run off with bags of cash while they choke to death on the poison he forced down their throats. Not that this is the first time that Murray has tried to avoid responsibility for letting his own workers die (and rescue workers, as well).

All we can say is: “Eat shit, Bob“. The worst of fates for you would not produce enough schadenfreude for the rest of the world to make up for the damage you’ve caused.

(If you’re looking for more background on what a piece of work Bob Murray is, enjoy a couple Last Week Tonight episodes about coal, and how Murray mistreats his workers, and Murray’s ridiculous feud with host John Oliver).

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Avatar for Jameson Dow Jameson Dow

Jameson has been driving electric vehicles since 2009, and has been writing about them and about clean energy for since 2016.

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