Coal magnate Bob Murray pitched Energy Secretary Rick Perry on his plan to throw an economic lifeline to coal companies less than a month before Perry set in motion plans to aid the industry, according to newly disclosed photographs that show the two meeting.
The liberal magazine In These Times obtained pictures of Murray and Perry from a March 29 meeting at Energy Department headquarters, less than a month after Perry was sworn in. Several other officials were in attendance, including Andrew Wheeler, who at the time was a lobbyist for Murray and has since been nominated as EPA’s No. 2 official.
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The meeting puts Murray and Perry together at a crucial moment in the timeline of the Trump administration’s push to save the struggling coal industry, an effort that would benefit Murray Energy in particular while hiking electricity prices for potentially millions of people. A month before the meeting, one of Murray’s biggest customers, FirstEnergy Corp., had told investors it was seriously considering sending its merchant division, FirstEnergy Solutions, into bankruptcy, a move which would likely void its supply contracts with Murray’s coal mines.
Three weeks after Murray’s visit, Perry would order a grid study that later became part of the justification for a proposed rule to reward coal and nuclear power plants for providing “grid resiliency.” FERC, which has jurisdiction over the proposal, must make a decision on it by Monday.
At the time of the meeting, Wheeler was already the leading candidate to become the deputy administrator for EPA. Wheeler, who represented Murray as a lobbyist for Faegre Baker Daniels, would not be officially nominated for months. Wheeler, who has acknowledged participating in meetings on Murray’s coal plan at DOE and on Capitol Hill, cleared committee last week and is awaiting Senate confirmation.
Murray is an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump and held a fundraiser for him during the 2016 campaign.
DOE did not dispute the validity of the photos.
“Industry stakeholders visit the Department of Energy on a daily basis,” DOE spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said, when asked about the meeting. “The DOE proposal to FERC was about the future and resiliency of the nation’s power supply, an issue much bigger than one industry or company.”
The photographs show Perry sitting at the head of a table in the Department of Energy, with Bob Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, to his left, and Wheeler down the table from Murray.
“Enclosed is an Action Plan for achieving reliable and low cost electricity … and to assist in the survival of our Country’s coal industry, which … power grid reliability and low cost electricity,” Murray writes in a cover letter to Perry, parts of which are visible in one photo from the meeting.
Though the document has never been publicly released, DOE critics say Murray’s plan appears to have inspired DOE’s grid study and the proposed rule Perry sent FERC in September. Copies are visible at the seats of most of the participants, including Perry and Murray. Wheeler, who told members of the Senate Environment Committee he had only seen the memo briefly, is not holding a copy in the photos obtained by In These Times. Murray told Greenwire in November he “didn’t have any involvement” in writing the rule.
Murray has acknowledged sharing the plan with Trump.
“I gave Mr. Trump what I called an action plan very early,” Murray said in a recent PBS Frontline documentary on EPA. “It’s about three-and-a-half pages and — of what he needed to do in his administration. He’s wiped out page one.”
The meeting appears to have been successful for all. One of the photos shows Perry and Murray in a big bear hug.