The Man Behind the Utah Mine Collapse

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 5:33 PM EDT

The six miners now trapped in a coal mine in Utah were working for Murray Energy, whose owner has become one of the most outspoken—and unhinged—spokespeople for coal power in the last year, as the dirty energy source has come under increasing scrutiny. Coal is the largest single contributor to greenhouse-gas pollution—but Mr. Murray denies that fossil fuels cause global warming.

Murray has used his platform as spokesman in the tragedy to continue his defense of the industry. On Tuesday, he delivered what the Washington Post called "a general paean to coal," threatening that, "Without coal to manufacture our electricity, our products will not compete in the global marketplace…and people on fixed incomes will not be able to pay for their electric bills."

Murray also adamantly denied that the "retreat" method of mining which was used in the section that collapsed had anything to do with the accident. Retreat mining involves taking the last bits of coal from pillars that hold up the roof, and result in—ideally controlled—collapses. Murray has blamed the collapse on an earthquake, though seismologists say vibrations were caused by the collapse, not vice-versa.

Murray's unconventional approach has drawn criticism from the Democratic chairs of two House committees that oversee labor issues. Reps. George Miller and Lynn Woolsey pressed the Labor Department to assume the spokesman role because Murray's statements do "not meet [the] standard" for such emergencies.

But it should be said that the Democrats and Mr. Murray have no love lost. Murray has given heavily to Republicans, including, according to the Post, $100,000 last year alone from his political action committee to GOP congressional candidates.He has used his ties with important Republicans—particularly Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose wife, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, oversees mine safety—to avoid facing the music for safety violations. The Utah mine's safety record was fairly average, despite fines for safety violations in the hundreds of thousands, but nationally, Murray's mines have a shoddy safety record. When confronted in 2002 with safety violations, Murray threatened to have the inspectors fired, referring to his close friendship with McConnell. "The last time I checked," he said, "he [McConnell] was sleeping with your boss."

Great guy, huh? Would you trust him with your life?