CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Murray Energy Corp. plans to cut health benefits at the end of the year for retired salaried workers from the five West Virginia coal mines it recently bought from CONSOL Energy Inc.
Gary Broadbent, spokesman for the Ohio-based coal producer, confirmed the cuts through a prepared company statement Thursday.
“Murray Energy Corporation . . . has confirmed that, as of December 31, 2014, and in keeping with Murray Energy’s historic practice, it will not be able to provide retiree medical coverage to salaried retirees of Murray American Energy Inc., formerly Consolidation Coal Company,” the statement said.
Murray Energy and CONSOL reached an agreement last October for Murray to purchase the five mines from its Consolidation Coal subsidiary — the Shoemaker Mine in Ohio County, McElroy Mine in Marshall County, Loveridge Mine in Marion County, Robinson Run Mine in Harrison County and Blacksville Mine in Monongalia County — in a deal valued at nearly $3.5 billion.
Murray, a privately-held company, agreed to pay $850 million in cash and assume nearly $2.4 billion on CONSOL debt and liabilities as part of the transaction. The acquisition made Murray one of the top five coal producers in the country.
Only retired salary workers are affected by the company’s decision. Union workers’ benefits are protected under collective bargaining agreements that were negotiated between the United Mine Workers and CONSOL.
Murray Energy CEO Bob Murray has been an outspoken critic of President Barack Obama and his administration’s environmental policies.
“I don’t think there is any question we will continue to see decreases in employment in the coal industry in West Virginia as a result of the actions of President Barack Obama, his radical appointees — mostly from the environmental movements — and his political supporters,” Murray said in a January interview with the West Virginia Press Association.
The company blamed administration policies for leading to its decision to cut benefits.
“Murray Energy’s inability to provide these benefits is, in part, due to the destruction of the coal industry, including our markets, by the Obama administration and its appointees and supporters, who have eliminated the livelihoods of thousands of coal miners, and their families, by the forced closing of 392 coal-fired electric power plants in America, now and in the immediate future,” the statement said.
“Due to these action (sic) and devastated coal markets, Murray Energy is unable to support these benefits,” the company said.
In his January interview, which took place after he spoke at the West Virginia Coal Association’s 41st Annual Coal Mining Symposium in Charleston on Jan. 30, Murray bemoaned the human toll he said environmental policies were taking on Appalachia.
“It’s a human issue to me because I know the names of these miners whose jobs and family livelihoods are being destroyed,” Murray said. “If they own anything, it’s their homes, and when the jobs are eliminated in their communities, there is no one to sell their homes to. These are people who want to work in honor and dignity and they’re being denied that. These are my employees.
“This is not the America that I cherish,” he said.
Published reports indicate about 1,200 Consolidation Coal retirees will be affected by the cuts, including about 1,030 in West Virginia. Broadbent did not respond to a request to confirm those numbers Thursday.
The company statement indicated Murray planned to assist retirees in finding other health insurance options once their current coverage expires on Dec. 31.
“Murray Energy is making this announcement at this time to allow affected salaried retirees of Consolidation Coal the opportunity to make other arrangements,” the company statement said.
The company also pointed out that more than 80 percent of the lost benefits can be made up through Medicare.
“Also, these former Consolidation Coal retirees have good pension benefits,” the company said. “The company has provided these salaried retirees with information on and access to alternate coverage.”
Contact writer Jared Hunt at email@example.com or 304-348-4836.