Hundreds more West Virginia miners were told Friday that they were being laid off, in the latest blow to the already deeply troubled Appalachian coal industry.
Alpha Natural Resources issued a statement announcing the “expected idling” of subsidiary Rockspring Development’s Camp Creek underground mine and processing plant in Wayne County and had given layoff notices to 439 employees at that operation. Alpha cited its “current assessment of market conditions.”
Meanwhile, Murray Energy was expected to issue a statement late this afternoon regarding layoffs at operations in West Virginia and Ohio. Some media reports indicated as many as 1,800 workers could be affected.
The announcements come a little more than a week after Patriot Coal announced that it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time, as regional coal producers face stiff competition from cheap natural gas, the depletion of the best coal seams in Southern West Virginia, growth of renewable energy sources, and new environmental rules aimed at curtailing air pollution from coal-fired power plants.
“This is an unprecedented time in the coal industry, and Alpha continues to take difficult but necessary actions to ensure that our production is aligned with the reduced market demand we see today and anticipate in the future,” said Alpha CEO Kevin Crutchfield. “These actions are consistent with steps we have taken in the past to build a smaller but more sustainable portfolio of mining assets across our operational footprint.” Word of the Murray layoffs was first made public on Thursday, in comments from company President Robert E. Murray at an industry conference on coalbed methane, according to two Pittsburgh media organizations that covered the event. More details were then more widely reported by the Wall Street Journal, which cited as its source an unnamed “person familiar with the matter.”
At the same time, a new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration said Friday that the Obama administration’s “Clean Power Plan,” a proposed regulation to curb greenhouse gas emissions, could double the projected coal-fired power plant retirements between 2014 to 2040, from 40 gigawatts without the rule to 90 gigawatts if the rule is finalized as proposed.
Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, said that the EIA report “confirms that this costly power plan will ‘lock in’ a more expensive and risky energy future.”
Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, said the latest layoff announcements show again the need for West Virginia leaders to focus their attention on diversifying economies in the state’s coalfield communities.
“As coal jobs continue to decline in West Virginia, policymakers need to take concrete action that will give our coal communities the resources they need to rebuild, diversify, and expand economic opportunity,” Boettner said. “It’s highly unlikely that coal in West Virginia will regain the predominance that it once had, even if the EPA rules to limit carbon pollution are abolished. Therefore, the need for smart federal and state investment is essential for creating a brighter future for historical coal producing areas in West Virginia.”
This article was written by Ken Ward Jr. from The Charleston Gazette, W.Va. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.