The chairman of Murray Energy Corp., the Ohio-based company that owns the Utah, is a strong Republican backer, a professional engineer and private pilot, and an outspoken critic of concerns about global warming.
Robert E. Murray insists his mines are safe.
"This is the first major accident I've ever had in one of my coal mines in 20 years of being in existence, the first major accident," he said Tuesday at a media briefing in Huntington, Utah.
Murray and the government differ over whether an earthquake caused the cave-in and whether the men were engaged in "retreat mining," in which miners pull down the last standing pillars of coal and let the roof fall in.
Rob Moore, vice president and chief financial officer of Murray Energy, said the privately-held company is a 50 percent owner in the Utah mine.
Moore, who responded to an e-mail interview request made to Murray, said he and Murray were too involved in rescue efforts Tuesday to discuss the company or its chairman.
Government mine inspectors have issued 325 citations against the Utah mine since January 2004, according to federal Mine Safety and Health Administration online records. Of those, 116 were what the government considered "significant and substantial," meaning they are likely to cause injury.
The number of safety violations is not unusual, said J. Davitt McAteer, former head of the MSHA and now vice president of Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia.
This is not Murray's first time in the spotlight.
Murray is active as a leader in the mining industry, and in 2001, he testified before a House Ways and Means subcommittee, on behalf of the National Mining Association, in support of several proposed tax cuts.
Murray Energy Corp.'s political action committee has been an active contributor to GOP candidates.
The Murray Energy Corp. Political Action Committee has given more than $155,000 to Republican candidates, including $30,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, since 2005, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The committee donated to Republican Senate candidates such as George Allen in Virginia, now presidential candidate Sam Brownback of Kansas and Katherine Harris of Florida. It also gave to Ohio Republican Reps. Deborah Pryce and Patrick Tiberi, and Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich. The committee did not give to any Democrats during the same period, FEC records show.
In 2004, Murray gave $15,000 of his own money to the NRSC, and he gave $10,000 in 2006. Among other donations in the last election cycle, he gave $2,000 to Ohio Republican Sen. Mike DeWine's unsuccessful re-election campaign.
Raja V. Ramani, a professor of geo-environmental engineering at Penn State University, said Tuesday he has known Murray for several decades, since before he formed Murray Energy. He described Murray as "a good friend to education and universities in general."
Murray was formerly president and chief executive officer of North American Coal Corp. until 1987. He currently is owner of a number of private coal mining companies that produce about 20 million tons of coal annually and employ about 2,000 people.
His holdings make Murray Energy the nation's 12th largest coal company, according to the National Mining Association.
The companies controlled by Murray Energy include The Ohio Valley Coal Co.'s Powhatan No. 6 mine in Ohio. The Ohio Valley Coal PAC also gave thousands of dollars to Republican causes, including $10,000 for Bush-Cheney election in 2000.
Murray Energy mine holdings in Pennsylvania include Maple Creek Mining Inc.'s Maple Creek Mine.
Some other holdings are KenAmerican Resources Inc., which runs Paradise Mine in western Kentucky; The American Coal Co. (AmCoal), which operates the Galatia Mine in southern Illinois, and PennAmerican Coal, which operates the Burrell Mine in central Pennsylvania.
Projects under development include the Century Mine of American Energy Corp., in Ohio; the Lila Canyon Mine of UtahAmerican Energy Inc., in Utah, and the Spring Church Mine, of Spring Church Coal Co. in Pennsylvania.