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Collapse Is Latest Fight For Coal's Best Friend

His blue-collar roots have left him with a strong grudge against coastal elites who work in air-conditioned offices and are too squeamish or out of touch to think about where the electricity comes from to power their laptops, stereos and espresso makers.

"These people from California and New England who run the government have no idea what it's like for someone to put on a hard hat and go to work. They have this Olympian detachment," he said in the interview. When he went to testify on Capitol Hill this year, he recalled, "I asked them, 'Do you know what it is to carry a bucket or wear a hard hat?' And they didn't even know what a 'bucket' is. I had to explain to Nancy Pelosi that it was really a lunch I was talking about."

His scorn sweeps far beyond Democrats in Congress, whom he's tried to counter with heavy contributions to Republicans, including $100,000 from his political action committee to GOP congressional candidates last year alone.

He is deeply skeptical of the scientific consensus that global warming is being caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, preferring to lend credence to outsider theories for climate change, such as sunspot activity or a shift of Earth's magnetic north redirecting ocean currents. He has withering criticism for fellow energy executives who are looking for ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, saying they are in it for their own gain and will harm the economy.

He is virulently anti-union -- he has fought to keep all but one of his mines from organizing, telling his workers "these people are not your friends" at the regular question-and-answer sessions he holds at his mines, and he mocks the United Mine Workers of America by noting that it now represents but a sliver of the nation's miners. "Their clout is unbelievable only because of the amount of money they pump into" politics, he said.

He has scorn even for Sweden, which he fears might become a model for an overtaxed and overregulated America. "Sweden, I've been there, and I never wish to go back. It's a place with no opportunity," he said. "The unions and the government run the country. It's a country with no future."

Murray's run-ins with his foes are legion. In 2001, he unsuccessfully sued the Akron Beacon Journal for $1 billion after a critical profile. That year, he was acquitted of assault charges after he allegedly threw an environmental activist against a wall.

Murray did not respond to requests for comments for this article.

For all his clashes with the United Mine Workers, union officials say Murray's mines are in general on par with others when it comes to safety issues. In the interview, he said that he took safety seriously, partly because of his own work as a miner. "There's been nothing but safety for me," he said. "I take it to bed with me every night."

He has sought to strike a similar tone outside the Utah mine, though his hopes for finding the miners were mixed with a world-weary fatalism. "The Lord has already decided whether they're alive or dead," he said. "But it's up to Bob Murray and my management to get access to them as quickly as we can."

He defended his performance in the news conferences, saying his main role was to oversee the rescue and comfort families. "I am a coal miner," he said. "I have responsibility for this rescue. I am not a professional in talking to you or Americans. I am a professional in talking to miners in distress."

Staff writers Rob Stein and Matthew Mosk and staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this report.

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