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Coal Baron Sues Activist For Defamation

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"Coal Baron Sues Activist For Defamation"

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CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRESS

In late September, Robert Murray, owner of the Ohio-based coal giant, Murray Energy Corporation, filed a lawsuit against Mike Stark, an activist and journalist, and The Huffington Post. The complaint accuses Stark of defamation and invasion of privacy for his article “Meet the Extremist Coal Baron Bankrolling Ken Cuccinelli’s Campaign” about Murray’s donations to Virginia gubernatorial candidate Cuccinelli published in The Huffington Post on September 20th.

On November 1st Stark responded by filing a motion asking for the dismissal of the charges for the case. Stark is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and David Halperin, former Senior Vice President of the Center for American Progress.

In an article about the call for dismissal, Halperin writes of the motion that “We believe Mr. Murray’s case has no merit”:

“All the facts alleged by Mike Stark in his article are true, and the statements about which Mr. Murray complains are all expressions of opinion. The lawsuit, however, may have the effect of stifling debate about policy issues and about Mr. Murray and his company. So we are asking the judge to promptly dismiss it.”

In the original Huffington Post article, Stark wrote that by accepting money from Murray Energy, Cuccinelli was accepting “$30,000 from an extremist billionaire that is funding an Obama impeachment effort, that allegedly extorts money from his low-wage employees, and fires his workforce wholesale in fits of spite when electoral results disappoint him.”

The use of the word ‘extremist’ is one of the main points of Murray’s lawsuit, with Murray’s statement saying, “The Defamatory Statements…were published with malice…[and] were understood and interpreted by readers of The Huffington Post to be assertions of fact, not opinion.”

War On Coal

Stark also notes that Murray’s campaign work on behalf of 2012 Republican Party presidential nominee Mitt Romney and the prayer he delivered to his staff after Obama’s 2012 victory, in which he said in part that “the American people have made their choice”:

“They have decided that America must change its course, away from the principals of our Founders. And, away from the idea of individual freedom and individual responsibility. Away from capitalism, economic responsibility, and personal acceptance.

We are a Country in favor of redistribution, national weakness and reduced standard of living and lower and lower levels of personal freedom.

My regret, Lord, is that our young people, including those in my own family, never will know what America was like or might have been. They will pay the price in their reduced standard of living and, most especially, reduced freedom.”

An article in The Washington Post about Murray notes that not only was it time for prayer, but also layoffs. Shortly after Obama’s election Murry laid off 54 people at American Coal and 102 at Utah American Energy. He took the opportunity to blame, unsurprisingly, the “war on coal” by the Obama administration.

The article also notes that Murray’s miners said they were forced to attend certain Romney rallies without pay.

An article in The New Republic found that since 2007 employees of Murray Energy and its subsidiaries, along with their families and the Murray PAC, have contributed over $1.4 million to Republican candidates for federal office. The article mentions a 2011 letter to managers regarding a fundraiser in which Murray writes, “I am asking you to rally all of your salaried employees and have them make their contribution to our event as soon as possible. Please see that our salaried employees ‘step up,’ for their own sakes and those of their employees.”

Stark mentions this previously reported news in the article Murray is suing him over. What Stark doesn’t mention are any of Murray’s environmental indiscretions, such as the multiple times his companies have been caught spilling coal slurry into creeks.

This isn’t the first time a journalist has offended Murray’s sensibilities, and possibly also his bottom line. In August, the Charleston Gazette and reporter Ken Ward Jr. were sued by Murray Energy for a July 18 blog post that implied the company and CEO Bob Murray are criminals.

“[Murray] likely realizes that a lawsuit like this has the effect of diverting resources that a writer or activist like Mike Stark might otherwise use to expose and question the actions of Murray, Murray Energy, and the coal industry,” Stark’s lawyers explained to DeSmog Blog. “This kind of lawsuit could also deter others from engaging in commentary and criticism about Murray and these issues.”

Coal Mine Investment

Last week Murray Energy agreed to purchase five coal mines from Consol Energy, the largest coal producer in the eastern United States. The $3.5 billion deal amounts to about fifty percent of Consol’s production. Consol said the reason for the sale was to focus more on natural gas growth and coal mines that produce for export.

According to the Wall Street Journal “the sale marks something of a historic shift for [Consol Energy], which started mining coal during the Civil War. It also echoes the larger national trend toward greater reliance on cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas.”

Consol said 3,722 employees will be directly impacted by the sale to Murray Energy. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about 2,800 of those are United Mine Workers of America members whose contract ensures they retain their jobs at least through 2016.

After Obama’s election, Murray predicted the “total destruction of the coal industry by 2030.” His Outline of America’s Future that accompanied the prayer, says “While putting Murray Energy into a survival mode, I will be fighting allegations from radical Obama supporters that you know are blatantly false and were inspired only to shut down our opposition to them on behalf of our employees, your area, and our country.”

Survival mode must mean investing heavily in coal mines that other companies no longer want.

Employees can look forward to the solace of knowing that Murray will blame the Obama administration in the case of any layoffs instead of the real reasons — cheaper natural gas, environmental and climate concerns, alternative energy sources, public demand, or increased energy efficiency.

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