Obituary Notices

Coal Leader Robert Murray Dies

The man who, for many, was the public face of the American coal industry has died. A week after announcing his retirement as chairman of the board of the company whose predecessor he founded, Robert Murray died in St. Clairsville, Ohio. He was 80 years old.

Murray had announced his earlier retirement as president of Murray Energy on October 29, 2019, as his company entered a Chapter 11 reorganization, although he remained chairman of the board until October 19 of this year. The company recently emerged from its reorganization and is now known as American Consolidated Natural Resources. It remains the largest privately-owned U.S. coal operator, with active mines in Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, and Utah.

Murray was the founder, president and CEO of Murray Energy. Among the company’s assets was Murray American Transportation, which currently operates 250 barges and 14 towboats. Murray founded Murray Energy in 1988 after having served as CEO with several other coal companies. The company was known for its pioneering development of custom equipment for more efficient long-wall mining. In 2009, it opened a manufacturing facility in Centralia, Ill., to make its own proprietary equipment.

Toward the end of his career, Murray saw the U.S. begin to turn away from coal. A combination of tighter regulations against coal emissions and the emergence of hydraulic fracturing, which made cleaner-burning natural gas cheaper and more abundant, persuaded dozens of coal-fired power plants to switch to natural gas as hundreds of other plants were permanently retired as they reached the end of their design lives. As rival coal companies redefined themselves, divested coal assets and shifted to other forms of energy, such as fracking for natural gas, Murray saw opportunities and bought their assets.

Coal Industry Champion

Murray was the most visible and outspoken champion of the coal industry.  He waded into controversy and did not shy away from making himself a lightning rod in political fights with regulators and the media. He launched multiple lawsuits against the Obama administration, opposing what he saw as its war on coal. He was a member of the boards of directors of the National Mining Association, American Coal Foundation, National Coal Council, Ohio Coal Association and Pennsylvania Coal Association. 

Murray himself worked in the mines for 16 years and suffered several mine-related injuries before moving to the executive suite. He reportedly had recently applied to a federal black-lung relief fund.

Sen. Shelley Capito of West Virginia tweeted, “Saddened to learn of the passing of Bob Murray. He was a staunch ally for coal miners, a good friend and a one-of-a-kind person.”

Rich Nolan, president of the National Mining Association, said, “There was no one more passionate about the importance and value of coal, and the absence of his voice will be felt by many.”