Heated defense of mining not odd for owner Murray

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 8 2007 1:01 a.m. MDT

Robert Murray, owner of Crandall Canyon Mine, gives a briefing Tuesday by the mine. He emphasized his mining experience in his defense of the industry.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News

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Taking verbal shots at those who don't see things his way isn't out of character for the outspoken owner of the Emery County mine where six miners remain trapped.

Robert E. Murray called Al Gore "the shaman of global gloom and doom" in a speech to the New York Coal Trade Association earlier this year. "He is more dangerous than his global warming."

In May, Murray called Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., "anti-American" for suggesting the nation needs a president who cares about workers' rights and workers' safety. He also mixed it up in June with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., when she cited a news story saying two of his Ohio mines have injury rates higher than the national average.

So, it wasn't unusual for him at a Tuesday news conference to vehemently defend the mining industry, go off on global warming and call out by name reporters and news outlets whose stories on the Crandall Canyon Mine collapse he deemed nonfactual.

"He's very impassioned," said Janet Gellici, executive director of the American Coal Council. "He very much — I would use the word loves — his miners."

The United Mine Workers of America, which Murray also lambasted in Tuesday's news conference, didn't want to "get into a spitting match with Bob Murray," communications director Phil Smith said.

"The best that can be said about Bob Murray is that he's volatile," he said.

UMWA lampooned Murray in a 2001 edition of its journal. A cartoon depicted a two-headed Murray as an angel and a devil. The angel holds a newspaper, while the devil holds a distressed-looking miner. The caption reads: "Bob Murray: Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get."

Sometimes lost in Murray's bluster at the news conference was the fact that six men are trapped.

"This shouldn't be about what Bob Murray thinks about global warming, the media and the UMWA," Smith said. "We should be talking about getting these guys out."

Smith called Murray's statements regrettable, but "considering the source, it's not surprising."

Late Tuesday two Democratic lawmakers heading up committees that oversee worker safety issues and the federal mining regulatory agency blasted the handling of Tuesday's news conference, saying it failed to provide the public with the "most accurate possible information."

Reps. George Miller and Lynn Woolsey, both D-Calif., said the regulatory agency should have been the primary distributor of information, rather than Murray.

Murray comes from a long line of coal miners; his father was paralyzed in a mining accident. At age 16, he mowed lawns after school using a coal miner's hat with a light so he could work after dark.

The 67-year-old Ohio native worked for North American Coal Corp. for 31 years, rising to CEO.

At Tuesday's press conference he emphasized in his mining experience he has "had a man die in my arms" and been trapped in mines himself.

He left North American Coal in 1987 after a disagreement.

The satirical article in the UMWA journal said Murray felt depressed about the situation and sat on his back porch contemplating his future when a squirrel hopped up next to him, looked him in the eye and said, "Bob Murray, you should be operating your very own mines."

Venturing out on his own, he founded Murray Energy Corp. from a mortgaged home.

The Cleveland-based company now runs 11 coal mines in Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Utah, producing a combined 32 million tons per year for electrical utilities, including the Intermountain Power Agency outside Delta. It employs 3,000 people.

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