ST. LOUIS (AP) — A coal producer owned by a longtime critic of President Barack Obama's energy policies will lay off nearly 160 workers at Illinois and Utah mines, blaming the freshly re-elected president for a "war on coal."
Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp. said in a statement supplied Friday to The Associated Press that it would give pink slips to 102 workers at its West Ridge Mine in Utah and 54 at its underground mine in the southern Illinois town of Galatia. Both mines are run by Murray Energy subsidiaries.
Murray did not specify when layoffs will take place or the total number of workers at each affected site. The company refused an email interview request, saying only that "unfortunately, we will be forced to make even more layoffs, none of which we want."
The announcement's timing — just days after Obama's victory over Republican Mitt Romney — was anything but coincidental. Robert Murray, the company's chairman, CEO and founder, had backed Romney, who proposed rolling back some restrictions on power-plant emissions and positioned himself as a supporter of the coal industry.
"The American people have made their choice," Murray, a day after the election, told about 50 employees during a prayer, a text of which was provided to the AP by the company. Lamenting the country's direction and insisting "the takers outvoted the producers," Murray asked for God's forgiveness "for the decisions that we are now forced to make to preserve the very existence of any of the enterprises that you have helped us build."
Murray's statement Friday, which insisted that the coal industry "is being destroyed," said U.S. coal production this year could plunge by hundreds of millions of tons, and that the Obama administration's energy policies will lead to the closure of scores of U.S. coal-fired power plants by 2014.
The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed tighter limits on mercury, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants that would make it more expensive for utilities to burn coal, a major source of those emissions. The EPA has also proposed limiting the amount of carbon dioxide that new power plants can emit.
Neither would specifically bar coal-fired power plants, but experts say it would be nearly impossible to build an affordable new coal plant that could meet the limits. The proposals, some which had begun under George W. Bush's administration, wouldn't affect coal plants now in use or being built.