By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. coal baron Robert Murray, whose company Murray Energy filed for bankruptcy last year, has applied for federal benefits to treat his black lung disease after opposing more stringent coal dust regulations for years, according to report by West Virginia public radio.
Murray, an ally of President Donald Trump, filed a claim with the Department of Labor seeking to access federal benefits to treat his disease, which is caused by prolonged exposure to coal dust, Ohio Valley ReSource - a National Public Radio affiliate, reported on Thursday.
Reuters could not independently confirm the report.
The news outlet said Murray wrote in his filing for benefits from the fund that he is heavily dependent on an oxygen tank and is “near death”. Murray said he is entitled to benefits after working in underground mines for 63 years.
Murray's company was one of several coal companies that provided collateral to self-insure their obligations to employees diagnosed with black lung disease. In 2015, the Department of Labor had recommended revoking its authority to self-insure due to its deteriorating finances though it did not follow through.
After bankruptcy, American Consolidated Natural Resources -Murray Energy's new name after emerging from bankruptcy, is not responsible for old claims, shifting its $74.4 million liability to the federal government's Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, according to Labor Department estimates provided to Congress.
The Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration, which administers the benefits, did not respond to a request for comment.
Mike McCown, spokesman for American Consolidated, declined to comment.
The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund is funded through a $1.10 per ton excise-tax on production of underground coal but runs a massive debt and is at risk of insolvency, according to the U.S. General Accountability Office.
The National Mining Association continues to fight to slash the tax in half.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)