Coal CEO slams Trump for picking 'inadequate bureaucrats'

Here's what Trump has said about bringing back coal jobs
Here's what Trump has said about bringing back coal jobs

Coal boss Robert Murray criticized the Trump administration for appointing "inadequate bureaucrats" to a regulatory commission that unanimously rejected a rescue plan for the crumbling coal industry.

Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy and a vocal supporter of President Trump's efforts to revive coal, warned that the decision by mostly Trump-appointed officials at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would cause more coal-fired power plants to shut down.

"Mr. Trump's administration made some bad appointments to this commission," Murray told CNNMoney in an interview on Tuesday. "This will exacerbate the already bad situation."

Four of the five commissioners who run FERC were appointed by Trump, who has vowed to resuscitate coal country by relaxing regulation. All five dismissed Energy Secretary Rick Perry's proposal to subsidize power plants like coal and nuclear that maintain a 90-day supply of fuel on site.

Perry cited a "crisis" requiring the regulators to make the power grid more resilient, but his plan was widely seen as an attempt to prop up coal and nuclear power companies.

Coal's long decline has accelerated in recent years, mostly because of the rise of cleaner energy like natural gas and solar. The coal industry has also been hurt by tougher Obama-era environmental regulations.

Instead of approving Perry's plan, FERC directed regional transmission operators, which move electricity through the grid, to submit information so the agency can decide whether it should do something.

Murray, who leads the largest private coal company in the United States, argued that if coal-fired power generation declines any further, it will lead to "blackouts and brownouts."

"The bureaucrats appointed by Mr. Trump and the one already there have failed to carry out their obligations during this crisis," Murray said. "They forgot who appointed them -- and it's bad for America."

Related: Federal regulator rejects Trump coal rescue plan

Trump nominated the four commissioners in May and August, and they were subsequently confirmed by the Senate. The fifth, Cheryl LaFleur, was nominated by former President Barack Obama.

Murray is known for his fierce defense of the coal industry. He has repeatedly called climate change a "hoax" and a "fraud." He filed a defamation lawsuit last year against John Oliver, HBO and CNN owner Time Warner (TWX), alleging "character assassination" during an episode of "Last Week Tonight."

Advocates for cleaner American energy policies cheered FERC's decision.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a U.N. special envoy on climate change, said the FERC decision was a "victory for consumers, the free market and clean air."

Murray praised Perry for recognizing a "crisis" that FERC failed to see. Perry said the resilience of the electric grid has been called into question by natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy and the 2014 extreme cold snap known as the Polar Vortex.

Yet a report published last fall by the Rhodium Group research firm concluded that power outages are usually caused by downed power lines, not a short supply of fuel. Less than 0.1% of electricity disturbances over the last five years were caused by fuel supply emergencies, Rhodium Group concluded.

Murray dismissed the research, claiming that Rhodium Group is "certainly biased" and "shills for the renewable energy industry." A spokeswoman for Rhodium told CNNMoney that the report in question was "produced independently, not commissioned or paid for by any client."

Related: Trump rejects cry for help from coal execs

Murray has also railed against subsidies for renewable energy like solar and wind, pleading with Washington to let free enterprise operate. Murray conceded that Perry's FERC request was "probably not" a free market solution, but insisted it was needed due to previous government intervention.

Murray, who said he has not spoken to anyone in the Trump administration since the FERC decision, urged the Energy Department to take more steps to help coal. He repeated his call for Perry to prevent more coal-fired power plant closures by declaring an emergency in the power grid.

The Trump administration rejected a similar request from Murray in August, stating that "the evidence does not warrant the use of this emergency authority."

The White House referred questions to the Energy Department, which did not respond to a request for comment.

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