Coal executive Bob Murray clashed Monday with federal energy regulators at a Lexington, Kentucky, energy forum over what Murray called a failure by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to sufficiently support the struggling coal industry.
“The word that I’ve been using to describe FERC is feckless,” Murray told the audience, including FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee.
Murray wanted FERC, which regulates the wholesale transmission of energy, to enact a Trump Administration proposal that would have subsidized coal-fired power plants and helped keep them competitive with cheaper natural gas. Murray Energy and other coal companies argues that without enough coal in the nation’s fuel mix the electric grid could become unreliable, posing a risk to national security.
“What natural gas is available, you know, it comes in a finite pipe,” Murray said. “People forget that too, that these gas wells aren’t going to last. This glut of gas is not going to last.”
The proposal was widely criticized and FERC rejected the idea last year. Murray and other coal industry actors viewed that as a failure by FERC to prioritize the resiliency of the power grid to threats from extreme weather events.
Chatterjee personally invited Murray to speak, knowing that he would be harshly critical. “He was obviously sharply critical of the commission and the decision we made,” Chatterjee said. “And that’s precisely what I hoped to achieve by inviting him here: to start the dialogue.”
FERC and the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research hosted the event, which Chatterjee called a frank discussion away from the politics of Washington, D.C. Attendees included executives from fossil fuel, nuclear and renewable energy industries, and regulatory agencies from states across the country. They discussed the future of America’s energy mix, “all of the above” strategies and more aggressive action to address climate change, such as the Green New Deal proposal.
Other coal industry leaders had prominent roles. Alliance Research Partners CEO Joe Craft sat at Chatterjee’s left hand during a buffet-style lunch, and former Peabody Energy executive Fred Palmer took center stage in a panel about retraining displaced coal sector workers.
The coal industry has struggled in recent years as a mix of efficiency, renewable energy and especially natural gas from fracking have made coal less competitive. Major bankruptcies have shaken the industry, and Bob Murray’s company could be next. Murray Energy has been in the news lately for mounting financial problems, and industry observers anticipate a bankruptcy announcement. Murray Energy is based in Ohio and the company claims to be the country’s largest underground mine company, with about 6,000 employees.