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Coal giant Murray Energy declares bankruptcy

Coal giant Murray Energy, with mines in Kentucky, declares bankruptcy

Murray Energy Holdings Co., the largest underground coal mining company in the United States, has declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, another sign of the industry’s continuing economic decline.

The company and its subsidiaries operate 15 active coal mines in six states, including Kentucky, employing nearly 7,000 workers, according to the Murray Energy website.

According to a 2018 report by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, three Murray Energy subsidiaries — the Muhlenberg County Coal Co., the Western Kentucky Coal Co. and Western Kentucky Resources — employ 367 workers in their mines.

The coal giant filed for bankruptcy to restructure $2.7 billion in debt, with a group of lenders providing a $350 million loan to keep mines operating while the company is reorganized.

Part of that reorganization is the replacement of CEO Robert Murray, a prolific political donor and supporter of President Donald Trump who railed against environmental regulations under the Obama administration. Murray will now take on the role of chairman under Murray NewCo, which is attempting to acquire the old company’s assets.

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A spokesman for Murray Energy did not return emailed questions asking if mines owned by its subsidiaries will continue operating in Kentucky and if its employees would be affected.

The three Murray Energy subsidiaries operating active coal mines in Western Kentucky have not secured or filed a performance bond with the Kentucky Labor Cabinet as required under law, according to a report by the attorney general’s office in late August.

The performance bond totaling four weeks’ payroll at the employer’s full capacity is required for coal companies that have been doing business in Kentucky for fewer than five consecutive years, to ensure workers receive payment in case of an abrupt closure.

Such a bond was not posted by coal company Blackjewel when it filed for bankruptcy in July, leaving 400 miners in Kentucky without pay as paychecks were clawed back by the company. This led to months of protests by laid-off miners in Harlan County, who grabbed national headlines by blocking a train carrying Blackjewel’s coal until they received their back pay.

A spokeswoman for the Labor Cabinet did not immediately know if the three Murray Energy affiliates have filed a performance bond with the state since they were listed on the attorney general’s report on Aug. 29.

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Murray and his company have been among the most generous contributors to Republican political causes in recent years, especially Trump. Murray Energy gave $1 million to a super PAC supporting Trump’s reelection last year, after giving $1 million to outside groups advocating for his election in 2016.

Murray hosted a private fundraiser for Trump in Wheeling, West Virginia — near the company’s headquarters in St. Clairsville, Ohio — in July and another for Gov. Matt Bevin on Oct. 1.

A loud critic of the environmental policies of the Obama administration, Murray called the former president “the greatest enemy I’ve ever had in my life.”

While Trump has proclaimed himself the savior of America’s coal industry, statistics from the Energy and Environment Cabinet show the number of coal miners employed in Kentucky from the end of the Obama administration to the end of June has decreased by 6.7%.

Murray Energy is the fifth coal company to declare bankruptcy this year, including Blackjewel, Cloud Peak Energy and Kentucky-based Cambrian Coal and Blackhawk Mining. In addition to a sharp decline in coal exports, the industry has lost ground in the power market as the cheaper option of natural gas has lowered demand for coal.

 

This content was originally published here.

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