A Coal Executive’s “Action Plan” For Trump Is Made Public

Robert Murray, founder and chairman of Murray Energy Corp., was an early supporter of Donald Trump's campaign for president.

Robert Murray, founder and chairman of Murray Energy Corp., was an early supporter of Donald Trump's campaign for president. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

January 10, 2018

As early as his 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump has been a vocal advocate for the coal industry. As a candidate and now as president, he’s promised to slash regulations he says cost miners their jobs, and forged political alliances with leaders across the industry.

Among those leaders is Robert E. Murray, CEO of Murray Energy Corp., the country’s largest coal mining company. During the election, Murray was an ardent supporter of Trump, throwing an invitation-only fundraiser for him in West Virginia, and donating $300,000 to his inauguration.

“It was eight years of pure hell under the Democrat Party and Obama,” Murray told FRONTLINE in our 2017 documentary War on the EPA. “But we won! It’s a wonderful victory!”

In his interview with FRONTLINE, Murray boasted of an “action plan” he says he provided the president in the early days of his administration. The three-and-half-page long wish list detailed, “what he needed to do in his administration,” Murray said, before adding that the president had already, “wiped out page one.”

Until now, the full memo had not been made public. But that changed on Tuesday, when a copy of the document provided by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) was published by The New York Times.

The March 1, 2017 memo, signed by Murray and addressed to Vice President Mike Pence, lists 14 requests, including the elimination of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan; a United States withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement; and at least a 50 percent cut to the staff at the Environmental Protection Agency. Other major overhauls include “a withdrawal and suspension” of the endangerment finding, a landmark EPA determination requiring the agency to regulate carbon emissions, and eliminating a federal tax credit for windmills and solar panels.

“Enclosed is an Action Plan for the Administration of President Donald J. Trump, which will help in getting America’s coal miners back to work,” Murray writes in the memo. “We are available to assist you and your Administration in any way that you request.”

Murray has been an outspoken critic of climate change science. “We don’t have a climate change problem,” he told FRONTLINE. “It is not real and not scientifically based. It’s a theology. It’s politics. And it’s an agenda.”

Less than a year into his presidency, Trump has made undoing his predecessor’s environmental legacy a central part of his agenda. Under Trump, the EPA has moved to delay or roll back more than two dozen environmental regulations — moves that in multiple instances have overlapped with items listed in the Murray memo.

For example, during a March ceremony attended by Murray at EPA headquarters in Washington, President Trump signed an executive order instructing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to begin the process of dismantling the Clean Power Plan. Finalized by the Obama administration in 2015, the plan was designed to cut the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2030.

“Mr. Trump, he acknowledged me in the audience,” Murray told FRONTLINE about the ceremony. “And if you look at the press releases on it, the back of my bald head is in the pictures.”

This past fall, Pruitt took his first formal step toward repealing the plan, but gave little indication as to how the EPA would meet its obligations to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

That action came four months after President Trump announced that the U.S. would break from the Paris Climate Accord, signed by 195 nations to address rising global temperatures.

Despite these early victories, Murray faced a setback this week when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected a proposal by the Trump administration that would have provided federal subsidies to coal and nuclear power plants.

In his memo to the Trump administration, Murray took aim at the commission, saying its members should be replaced and arguing that their actions “have destroyed the reliability of America’s electric power grid.”

This summer, the administration nominated four new members to the panel, giving Republicans control of all but one seat on the five-person commission. Nonetheless, Murray criticized the commission on Tuesday following its ruling on the administration’s energy plan.

“While FERC commissioners sit on their hands and refuse to take the action directed by Energy Secretary Rick Perry and President Donald Trump, the decommissioning of more coal-fired and nuclear plants could result, further jeopardizing the reliability, resiliency and security of America’s electric power grids,” Murray said in a statement to The Washington Post. “If it were not for the electricity generated by our nation’s coal-fired and nuclear power plants, we would be experiencing massive brownouts and blackouts in this country.”

Nicole Einbinder

Nicole Einbinder, Abrams Journalism Fellow, FRONTLINE/Columbia Journalism School Fellowships



In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

blog comments powered by Disqus

More Stories

Rural Health and Hospitals: A Focus on Texas
In 2020, the U.S. experienced the highest number of rural hospital closures in more than a decade.
April 22, 2021
Fight for Healthcare Access in Rural East Texas Continues as Some of the State’s Hospitals Face Closures
Texans in rural communities are facing an ongoing crisis as hospitals and medical facilities shutter. Randy Lindauer has spent the last few months renovating a hospital in East Texas, preparing it to reopen after it closed in 2019 — leaving about 56,000 residents without access to basic or emergency healthcare.
April 22, 2021
County will provide testing for neighbors of Florida’s lead smelter
The move was prompted by a Tampa Bay Times investigation that found hundreds of workers at the smelter were exposed to high amounts of toxic chemicals.
April 22, 2021
A Timeline of Domestic Extremism in the U.S., from Charlottesville to January 6
According to data from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, there were 405 terror attacks or plots in the U.S. from 2015 through 2020 — more than double the total number in the previous decade. A timeline of significant incidents tracks how domestic extremism has evolved in recent years.
April 21, 2021