CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Officials with Alpha Natural Resources say they cannot find buyers for the tons of coal being produced at some of the company’s subsidiaries in southern West Virginia.
Because of the glu, up to 1,100 coal miners and other workers at those surface mine sites were notified of possible layoffs this week.
“Although there is a chance that there are things that could turn around, what we want to tell folks is — let’s look at the very real picture and that is that we can’t find a home for this coal,” said Ben Beakes, director of government and external affairs for Alpha Natural Resources.
“We have to have people willing to buy the coal in these conditions in order to keep mines going.”
On Thursday, layoff notices—required 60 days in advance of possible job cuts by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification or WARN Act—went out to the employees at eleven surface mine sites in six West Virginia counties.
Those layoffs could fully take effect by October.
“My heart just goes out to those people that got the WARN notices,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin told MetroNews “Talkline” on Friday. “We certainly hope and keep on hoping that, within the next 60 days, that the market will improve some. We’ve been hoping this for some time.”
The affected surface mine sites are Highland Mining’s Superior, Reylas, Freeze Fork and Trace Fork surface mines in Logan County and the North surface mine in Mingo and Logan counties; Black Castle Mining’s surface mine in Boone County; Independence Coal’s Twilight surface mine in Boone County; Alex Energy’s Edwight surface mine in Raleigh County; Republic Energy’s Republic and Workman Creek surface mines in Raleigh County and Pioneer Fuel’s Ewing Fork #1 surface mine in Kanawha and Fayette counties.
The layoffs could affect preparation plants and other support operations for all of the mine sites.
“It’s not only those 1,100 good-paying mining jobs, but (it’s) the transportation, all of the auxiliary businesses that work to support the mines,” Tomblin said. “There’s a whole lot of tentacles to this thing as we look down the road.”
According to Alpha, which is based in Bristol, Va., those mines have produced 4.2 million tons of thermal and metallurgical coal so far this year. In recent years, Beakes said that kind of coal production has helped supply three power plants that are now former coal customers because of EPA regulations.
“We’re afraid that there’s more to come with those EPA regulations. They hurt the coal industry. They hurt miners and so that’s really what we’re facing. It took a big chunk out of our tons that we supply to those power plants that are not buying coal in 2015,” Beakes said.
“It’s just a sad day that we have to make these decisions, but most of the folks who are affected understand why this is happening. It doesn’t make it any easier.”