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Coal Baron Near Default Rips ‘Feckless’ Feds, While Asking State for Aid

Will Wade and Stephen Cunningham

(Bloomberg) -- With his coal company on the verge of default, Robert Murray is making another play for government aid. This time he’s reaching out to the states.

The U.S. coal industry is threatened with “extinction,” Murray said Monday at a conference in Kentucky hosted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He called on state lawmakers to limit the number of coal-fired power plants that are permitted to shut down, saying they are needed to underpin the reliability of the nation’s power grids.

His plea comes after FERC last year rejected the Trump administration’s call to aid struggling coal and nuclear power plants. The founder and chief executive officer of Murray Energy Corp. blasted the agency during the conference as “feckless,” saying its inaction poses a threat to national security.

“We have already closed far too many coal-fired plants, and our mines,” Murray said. “FERC has done nothing to really stop the destruction of the security and reliability of our electric power.

U.S. power producers have already closed about 40% of the nation’s coal-fired fleet, about 93,000 megawatts, as the fuel faces increased price competition from cheap natural gas and renewables, and growing concern about its role in driving climate change. Murray estimated that another 11,000 megawatts may be shuttered by 2022.

Murray, an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump, has urged Washington to offer support for power plants that can store fuel on-site, which he said makes them more reliable. That primarily would affect coal and nuclear plants, which are also struggling to compete.

While FERC has said it’s evaluating the issue, Murray urged states to “set a floor for closures of fuel-secure resources.”

In the meantime, coal producers including Murray Energy are shutting mines as demand wanes and prices tumble. Murray, the largest closely held U.S. supplier, missed interest payments this month and is currently in talks with creditors. A forbearance deal is in place through Oct. 28.

“We must preserve our coal-fired and nuclear generation,” Murray said. “We are headed to major crises in our country, and FERC and all of our governments, federal and state, have done nothing.”

(Michael R. Bloomberg, the founder and majority stakeholder of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, has committed $500 million to launch Beyond Carbon, a campaign aimed at closing the remaining coal-powered plants in the U.S. by 2030 and slowing the construction of new gas plants.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Will Wade in New York at wwade4@bloomberg.net;Stephen Cunningham in Lexington, Kentucky, at scunningha10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Lynn Doan at ldoan6@bloomberg.net, Reg Gale, Pratish Narayanan

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