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    Coal tycoon Robert Murray applies for federal black lung benefits

    Coal tycoon Robert Murray, 80, who for years opposed more stringent coal dust regulations has now applied for federal black lung benefits

    • Coal baron Robert Murray has filed a claim with the Department of Labor for federal benefits for black lung disease
    • The 80-year-old founded Murray Energy, which filed for bankruptcy last year
    • He said on his application that he is heavily dependent on oxygen and is ‘near death’
    • Murray said he is entitled to federal benefits after working in underground mines for 63 years 
    • Black lung disease is caused by prolonged exposure to coal dust
    • The former CEO has fought federal mine safety regulations for years 

    Coal baron Robert Murray, who for years opposed more stringent coal dust regulations in the United States, has now applied for federal benefits to treat his black lung disease. 

    Murray, whose company Murray Energy filed for bankruptcy last year, filed a claim with the Department of Labor seeking to access federal benefits to treat his disease, according to West Virginia public radio.

    Black lung disease is caused by prolonged exposure to coal dust. 

    The 80-year-old said on his application that he is still board chairman of Murray Energy but that he can no longer serve as president and CEO due to his health. 

    He said is heavily dependent on oxygen and is ‘near death’ and is entitled to benefits after working in underground mines for 63 years.

    The former CEO, who is an ally of President Donald Trump, has fought federal mine safety regulations for years. 

    Coal baron Robert Murray, who for years opposed more stringent coal dust regulations in the United States, has now applied for federal benefits to treat his black lung disease

    WHAT IS BLACK LUNG DISEASE? 

    Black lung disease is officially known as pneumoconiosis.

    It is caused by inhaling dust or prolonged exposure to coal dust.

    The disease has no cure and only some symptoms can be treated. 

    It gets its name because the disease makes a person’s lungs look black instead of pink. 

    Many who have the disease struggle to breathe as their lungs are slowly stifled by tiny dust and particles trapped there. 

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    His company filed an unsuccessful lawsuit in 2014 over regulations to cut the amount of coal dust in coal mines to reduce the incidence of black lung disease.

    The company’s lawsuit had argued that the regulations were overly burdensome and costly to the industry. 

    Murray said in the claim that he worked underground while supervising operations for several years.

    ‘During my 63 years working in underground coal mines, I worked 16 years every day at the mining face underground and went underground every week until I was age 75,’ Murray wrote. 

    Murray declined to speak on the record with the news outlets but said he has black lung from working in underground mines and is entitled to benefits. 

    He also disputed that he fought regulations to stop black lung and threatened to file a lawsuit if a story was published indicating he fought federal regulations and benefits, the outlets said.

    Murray told NPR last year that his lung disease was not caused by working in underground mines.

    ‘It’s idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. IPF, and it is not related to my work in the industry. They’ve checked for that,’ Murray said at the time. 

    The 80-year-old (pictured in 2007) said on his application that he is still board chairman of Murray Energy but that he can no longer serve as president and CEO due to his health. His company emerged last month from federal bankruptcy protection under a new name and ownership group

    The 80-year-old (pictured in 2007) said on his application that he is still board chairman of Murray Energy but that he can no longer serve as president and CEO due to his health. His company emerged last month from federal bankruptcy protection under a new name and ownership group

    ‘And it’s not – has anything to do with working in the coal mines, which I did for 17 years underground every day. And until I was 76, I went underground twice a week.’  

    Murray Energy Holdings emerged last month from federal bankruptcy protection under a new name and ownership group. 

    The new company, St Clairsville, Ohio-based American Consolidated Natural Resources Inc., is the largest privately owned US coal operator with active mines in Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Utah.  

    Murray’s company had over $150 million in black lung compensation obligations to its miners when it filed for bankruptcy in October, according to court filings. 

    When a mining company goes bankrupt, the responsibility for black lung compensation payments is often shifted to the federal government’s Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. 

    The Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, which administers the benefits, did not respond to a request for comment. 

    Mike McCown, spokesman for American Consolidated Natural Resources, Murray Energy’s new name after emerging from bankruptcy, declined to comment.  

    The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund is funded through a $1.10 per ton excise-tax on production of underground coal but runs a massive debt and is at risk of insolvency, according to the U.S. General Accountability Office.

    The National Mining Association continues to fight to slash the tax in half.

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