BY MAX FOLLMER/HUFFINGTON POST In 2003, when safety inspectors ordered the owner of a Utah coal mine where six workers have been trapped for more than a week to shut down one of his Ohio operations because of repeated safety problems, local press reports say he did not hesitate to flex his political muscle to get the inspectors off his back.
West Virginia Public Radio reporter Jeff Young filed a story at the time that said Murray Energy Corp. CEO Bob Murray had a meeting in Morgantown, W. Va. with Tim Thomspon, then a district manager for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Young obtained notes from the meeting which showed Murray threatening to have MSHA employees fired.
“I will have your jobs. They are gone. The clock is ticking,” Young quotes Murray as saying at the meeting.
The notes then go on to say Murray dropped the name of a pair of powerful Republicans in order to underscore his own political clout.
“Mitch McConnell calls me one of the five finest men in America, and last time I checked he was sleeping with your boss,” Murray told the inspectors, referring to the senior GOP senator from Kentucky. The quote was repeated in an Oct. 2006 Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader article on McConnell’s political influence.
McConnell – the Republican leader in the Senate — is married to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, who oversees MSHA. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, McConnell has received $176,800 in campaign donations from mining interests since 2001.
Thompson was later transferred to an office away from Murray’s mines, and retired from MSHA in 2006.
The Bush Administration denied that Murray played a role in Thompson’s reassignment.
Murray has personally donated $115,050 to Republican political candidates over the past three election cycles. He has given another $724,500 to the GOP over the past ten years through political action committees connected to his businesses.
Murray’s safety record has come under fire at several other mines he owns through at least a half dozen mining companies.
Mines owned by Murray’s companies produce more than 20 million tons of coal annually, according to a tally by the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. His companies include Ohio Valley Coal Co., Maple Creek Mining, Inc., KenAmerican Resources, Inc., American Coal Co. and PennAmerican Coal.
Robert Gehrke at the Salt Lake Tribune reported over the weekend that Murray’s Galatia mine in southern Illinois has racked up 2,787 violations over the past two years. MSHA has proposed more than $2.4 million in fines at Galatia, according to Gehrke’s reporting.
NPR: ” The cave-in at a mine in Utah last week was the second such collapse there this year. Another cave-in occurred in the spring in the same general area where six miners are now trapped. According to a consultant’s memo, the earlier incident was so severe that the company had to abandon that part of the mine. Although the mine owner denies it, by most accounts the miners had been removing pillars of coal. It is a technique commonly known as retreat mining. According to a consultant’s memo, the March collapse at Crandall was caused by coal pillars that could not handle the pressure.”
ASSOCIATED PRESS: “Ward, 24, said he was about a quarter-mile from the men when he heard the thunderous collapse and felt the mountain tumble. It was a force he had never experienced before, the bounce and the force of the rushing air so strong it nearly pushed his pickup sideways, he said. “This was like a whistling air, lots and lots gushing toward you,” he said. “I went nose down and just heard it howl, thinking, ‘What the hell was that?'”