The head of the biggest privately owned U.S. coal producer on Monday called electric-car maker Tesla Motors Inc. a “fraud” for failing to turn a profit despite subsidies.
Elon Musk, the billionaire chief executive officer of Tesla, fired back at Murray Energy Corp. CEO Robert Murray within hours on Twitter.
In his post, Musk said Tesla gets “pennies” on the dollar in subsidies compared with the coal industry, and that climate science denial is the “real fraud.”
The verbal sparring between Murray and Musk comes as seismic changes in energy policy and competition from natural gas have pummeled coal miners, leading to bankruptcies and record production cuts. Meanwhile, the presidential election has underscored differences between Republicans and Democrats in their approaches to federal energy regulations and spending.
In his interview with CNBC on Monday, Murray said Tesla was an example of the many companies collecting subsidies through energy policies supported by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. “Here again, it’s subsidies, and Hillary Clinton said they need government help,” he said.
Murray added that such policies were about Clinton “supporting her friends” rather than protecting the environment, and that the shutdown of all U.S. coal plants would do nothing to fight climate change.
Murray Energy announced earlier this summer that it was considering cutting more than 4,000 jobs, accounting for about 80 percent of its workforce, amid weak coal prices.
For its part, Tesla was downgraded to neutral from a buy rating by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. last week. The company’s shares have dropped as it moves forward with its plan to buy rooftop solar installer SolarCity Corp., which some analysts have deemed a risky bet. Musk is chairman of SolarCity, and his cousin Lyndon Rive serves as its chief executive officer.
Customers who purchase an electric vehicle can claim a $7,500 federal income tax credit and several states offer additional incentives, according to Tesla’s website.
Tesla will let Musk’s tweet “stand as a comment,” spokeswoman Alexis Georgeson said in an e-mail. The Clinton campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.