Bankruptcies Shake Coal Industry

On Oct. 29, Murray Energy became the eighth coal company to file for bankruptcy in 2019. Analysts attributed the move to competition from cheap natural gas and renewables as well as declining export markets.

CEO Robert Murray, known for fighting against environmental regulations, will step down after the company’s bankruptcy.

Murray Energy was the last company paying into the United Mine Workers of America pension plan, and its filing has added urgency to a push to secure miners’ pensions. Unlike the July bankruptcy of Blackjewel and its related companies, Murray Energy’s mines were expected to continue operating during bankruptcy proceedings, which were ongoing at press time.

Blackjewel’s case is still unfolding. After a sustained protest by workers, the miners owed back wages were paid. But on Dec. 6, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that Kopper Glo Mining, which purchased many of Blackjewel’s Kentucky mines during the bankruptcy sale, had idled mines and laid off non-salaried miners until at least Dec. 26.

A proposed sale of some of Blackjewel’s Wyoming mines to Eagle Specialty Minerals still lacks federal approval. And questions remain about when and how reclamation will proceed at the companies’ mines.

In early December, the U.S. Interior Department claimed Blackjewel owed $886,000 in royalties and taxes on coal mined after filing for bankruptcy — on top of the approximately $50 million it already owes the federal government.

Indemnity National Insurance Company, which insures the reclamation bonds for some of the companies’ mines, requested that Blackjewel pay Indemnity more than $66 million to cover the bonds for mines that were not sold during bankruptcy. Indemnity is responsible for either reclaiming the mines or paying the bond amounts to state agencies, which would then be responsible for reclaiming the sites. As of early December, bond forfeiture was underway on four Virginia mine permits owned by Blackjewel and its affiliate Revelation Energy.

In December, a judge ordered Blackjewel to account for more than $77,000 in expenses incurred during the bankruptcy proceedings, including lavish meals and hotel stays. — By Molly Moore


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