Mining boss a public face for industry

Times Staff Writer

He likes to be called “Honest Bob.”

He’s described as unflinching in his opinions and is best known in his native Ohio as a passionate advocate of coal mining -- so passionate that he sometimes comes across as angry.

Robert E. Murray, part owner of Utah’s Crandall Canyon Mine in which six men have been trapped since early Monday, has appeared at news conferences over the last two days as alternately concerned and cantankerous, selfless and self-promoting.

Murray, who flew to central Utah hours after the collapse, has maintained that an earthquake caused the cave-in, contrary to all early scientific appraisals.


He blasted the news media for what he perceives as inaccuracies in the unfolding story. In one breath he expresses hope that the miners are still alive; in the next, he extols the virtues of coal, coal mining and the coal-mining industry, of which he is a major player.

Murray, 67, a fourth-generation coal miner and president of Murray Energy Corp., has acted as the mining company’s chief spokesman since the accident. It isn’t clear whether he is helping or hurting the image of coal mining as an anachronistic and dangerous profession.

“I built the company starting with a mortgaged home; the United States of America is a great country,” he began in a statement Monday.

“We produce a product that is essential to the standard of living of every American, because our coal produces 52% of the energy in America today, and it is the lowest-cost energy, costing one-third to one-fourth the cost of energy from natural gas, nuclear and renewable resources.”

He went on to invite all Americans to “join me and go underground in one of our coal mines right here in Utah” to see how the industry has modernized.

He said he had no idea whether the trapped miners were dead or alive.

“Only the Lord knows that,” he said.

He added that there was enough air and water in the mine that the miners, if they lived through the collapse, could survive for weeks.


Murray Energy owns mines in five states and employs 3,300 workers, including about 70 workers at Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah’s arid Emery County. The Cleveland-based company is projected to bring in nearly $4.7 million in sales this year, according to Dun & Bradstreet Inc., which tracks business credit information.

A Republican and a staunch supporter of President Bush, Murray has long opposed government efforts to address global warming. He frequently refers to Al Gore, whose book “An Inconvenient Truth” focused attention on climate change, as “the shaman of global doom and gloom.”

According to Murray, his father was paralyzed in a mining accident, and he himself survived two accidents during his years a coal miner.

Murray, who objects to being depicted as a “coal baron,” sued the Akron Beacon Journal over a 2001 profile that he believed was defamatory. He reportedly sought $1 billion in damages. The case was settled out of court.

He lives in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, with his wife of 44 years, Brenda Lou Moore, and has three grown children; one daughter is deceased. He holds an engineering degree from Ohio State University and a degree from Harvard Business School.