One of President Donald Trump’s biggest financial backers in the coal industry was instrumental in propping up a campaign to prevent the construction of natural gas power stations in West Virginia.
Murray Energy is paying the legal bills for a grassroots group working to block projects many believe are eliminating coal mining jobs, ProPublica noted in a Sept. 28 report. The company’s CEO, Bob Murray, plowed more than $1 million into Trump’s presidential campaign.
Ohio Valley Jobs Alliance (OVJA) filed a legal appeal in November 2015 challenging a permit for construction of the Moundsville Power project, a natural gas-fired plant in Marshall County. The plant’s supporters claim it would provide roughly 500 jobs to West Virginia, a state that has seen its coal production stymied by a combination of environmental rules and technology.
Murray Energy funded OVJA’s legal action, one of the group’s leaders testified in a deposition in the case. The group is also attempting to stymie two other power plants located in Harrison and Brooke counties.
The company behind the Moundville was blindsided by the legal maneuver, which focuses on air-pollution permits issued by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
“It’s been very frustrating,” Drew Dorn, president of Energy Solutions Consortium, the developer originally behind the Moundsville plant, told reporters in September. He issued a press release in July blasting the lawsuit and depicting Murray Energy as hell-bent on killing “thousands of jobs on these projects.”
Public Service Commission Chairman Michael Albert asked OVJA head Jim Thomas where the group’s money originated during the October 2017 hearing. “We don’t use much money. I had a couple donations and that was it,” Thomas replied before coming clean following more back and forth.
“Murray Energy’s paying for the legal work. But Murray Energy does not give me any money,” he said.
A spokesman for the company provided The Daily Caller News Foundation with a statement on the campaign acknowledging the donations.
“The Ohio Valley Jobs Alliance is a grassroots organization that seeks to preserve coal jobs in the Ohio Valley,” the statement said. “While we certainly support their mission, we have not provided financial support to the organization, other than assisting them with certain legal fees.
Murray contributed $1 million to a Trump super PAC and donated another $300,000 to the president’s inauguration. (RELATED: Energy Giant Slams Accusations Company Played Role In A DOE Pro-Coal Proposal)
He also has done his level best to provide leverage for the industry during a time of upheaval. A series of reports in 2017, for instance, showed photos of the coal tycoon meeting with Energy Secretary Rick Perry that year to craft policies designed to prop up the coal industry.
Murray gave Perry a document at the time asking the agency to “require organized power markets to value fuel security” and fuel diversity that only coal plants can provide. Activist groups Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club, among others, later sent a letter to regulators accusing Murray of unduly influencing DOE’s proposal.
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