Former Murray Energy CEO Bob Murray Files for Black Lung Disability Benefits
Former Coal Baron Fought Against Some Federal Regulations to Limit Disease
ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Former coal baron Bob Murray, who founded St. Clairsville-based Murray Energy Corp. and ran the company for more than 30 years before its bankruptcy last year, has applied for federal black lung benefits.
Murray confirmed Thursday that he filed for black lung disability through the U.S. Department of Labor “a few weeks ago,” but acknowledged he may not be approved for the benefits.
“It’s personal. I worked underground every day for 16 years. I worked around the mines (and) in the mines” for 63 years, Murray said during a telephone interview with The Intelligencer.
He said testing at multiple hospitals diagnosed him with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which includes inflammation of the lungs and shortness of breath. Doctors at a Moundsville clinic that specializes in the disease told him he may have black lung, known as coal workers pneumoconiosis, but they would not know for certain until after his death when an autopsy could be performed, he said.
“I’m entitled to that benefit just like anyone else,” Murray said. “I have no income. I don’t own the old company. It’s gone. So I have the right.”
He’s now serving as chairman of the board for American Consolidated Natural Resources Inc., the succeeding company that emerged last month from Murray Energy’s bankruptcy proceedings.
“I can function in that job,” he said.
Speaking between breaths with the help of an oxygen machine, Murray blamed his ailment on the more than 30 years he worked at the former North American Coal Corp., more than half of which he spent underground. He rose through the ranks from miner to engineer and eventually to CEO of the company.
He said he was fired from the top position in 1987 because of his support for the federal black lung program and other union rights.
However, that position appears to be at odds with his actions while operating Murray Energy in which he regularly advocated against new government regulations to prevent black lung disease, including a proposal in 2014 to limit the amount of coal dust in mines.
Murray, 80, said he has not left his St. Clairsville home since March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The local doctors (said), ‘Don’t go out, because you won’t last several hours with the COVID virus and the condition your lungs are in.'”
Murray, whose father had black lung, said he hoped retired workers afflicted with the disease would seek testing and benefits.
“It’s there for them,” Murray said.