A senior coal company executive on Wednesday lambasted U.S. lawmakers for proposing caps on emissions blamed for global warming, saying the Democrats were out to destroy America’s coal industry.
Robert Murray, chairman, president and chief executive of Murray Energy Corp., also blasted the federal government’s mine safety agency for “outrageous” new fines that he warned could put some miners out of business.
“There is no question that the majority party in this country wants to eliminate the coal industry,” Murray told the McCloskey’s Coal USA conference, adding that some Republicans were also advocating tough measures.
A prominent environmentalist was quick to dismiss the remarks. “We don’t see a conflict between protecting the climate and continuing to use reasonable amounts of coal,” David Hawkins, a climate expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an interview.
Murray, who said he was giving testimony to the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee on Thursday, warned that proposed restrictions on carbon emissions would severely hurt the coal industry, which supplies the fuel for approximately 50 percent of America’s electricity generation.
Congress is considering several bills that aim to fight global warming by putting tough limits on greenhouse gases. Supporters say the bills would provide incentives for companies to invest in technology to cut emissions.
“This climate change issue is a human issue,” Murray said, paraphrasing what he said he would tell the Senate committee chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California.
“The present course of action that is proposed will result in little environmental benefit, but will destroy the lives of America’s working families.”
Murray said some studies estimated that reducing coal use would lead to the loss of 3 million to 4 million jobs in the United States.
However, many environmentalists, companies and politicians say new technologies like alternative energy and capturing carbon at power plants for disposal underground would create a wave of new jobs.
“I fundamentally disagree with Mr. Murray that coal has to be a loser in this area,” said Hawkins, a proponent of carbon capture who is also testifying at the hearing on Thursday. “The money that we spend protecting the climate is not going to go to another planet, it’s going to stay right here … creating incentives and new investment opportunities.”
Murray told Reuters after his talk that carbon capturing technology is a good idea, but that it is expensive and has almost “no commitment from the government to get it off the ground.”
He also criticized the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration for high fines against coal producers as a result of tougher enforcement of regulations.
Murray said one mining company recently was fined $400,000 and another $11,700 because a fire boss drew an arrow pointing in the wrong direction on an air vent.
His own company, which produces approximately 30 million tons of coal per year, was fined $48,000 for having a small amount of coal dust on a roller, Murray said.
“The fines are outrageous … and will take a lot of producers down because we can’t pass them on to our customers,” he said.
The MSHA has tightened up regulations following last year’s Sago mine disaster in West Virginia in which 12 miners died in a fire.
“Almost all federal mine safety and health laws exist because miners have lost their lives, still almost all serious accidents and fatalities occur due to failure to comply with these existing laws,” Richard Stickler, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, said in a statement.
“We feel strongly that higher penalties will induce operators to prevent and correct violations and be more proactive in their overall approach to miner safety and health,” he said.