Alleged Victims of Obama’s ‘War on Coal’ Heading Back to the Mine

Photograph by Whitney Curtis/Bloomberg

A barge is filled with coal on the Mississippi River in Chester, Illinois.

Workers are returning to an Ohio mine its owner said was closing because of President Barack Obama’s “war on coal.”

During the height of the presidential campaign, Murray Energy Corp., which bills itself as the largest privately-owned coal company in the U.S., announced that the Red Bird West mine in Brilliant, Ohio, would shut down, leaving 56 people out of work.

Bob Murray, the company’s founder and CEO, said Obama’s environmental policies threatened the “destruction of an entire segment of the economy,” in an interview for an Aug. 23 Bloomberg story.

Coal regions in the  campaign battlegrounds of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia were littered with “stop the war on coal” signs as part of an industry-funded campaign to block Obama’s re-election. Murray executives and employees donated more than $1.27 million to Republicans in the 2012 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based group that tracks campaign and lobbying spending.

In announcing that Red Bird would close in September or October, Murray Energy said 32 of the workers at the mine would be relocated elsewhere in the company. It turns out some may be staying put.

OhioAmerican Energy, Inc., the Murray Energy subsidiary that operates the mine, has 42 workers engaged in the “process of performing reclamation work and clearing up certain coal remnants,” the company said in an email response to questions from Bloomberg.

“This is work that is required by law and does not represent a ‘reopening’ of the mine,” the company said in the email.

The New Republic first reported the new activity at Red Bird yesterday. The magazine said the work could last for two or more years.

While relatively low natural gas prices are seen by energy analysts as having the biggest effect on declining coal use in the U.S., Murray Energy insists environmental regulations are preventing the industry from expanding.

At its height, Red Bird employed 239 people. “Unfortunately, these 239 jobs are never coming back,” the company said.

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