MADISON, W.Va. — Boone County Commissioner Mickey Brown said last week’s news that Alpha Natural Resources sent out WARN notices to 1,100 employees took him by surprise.
It’s no secret the coal industry is under fire from the Obama administration with proposed EPA limits on carbon emissions. However, Brown said it was a punch to the gut.
“It not only affects the coal company, it affects everything around from the grocery store to the filling stations to schools,” he said.
Two out of the 11 mines mentioned in the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification are located in Boone County, Black Castle Mining’s surface mine and Independence Coal’s Twilight surface mine.
Alpha blames the possible layoffs on a weak coal market and coal-fired power plants shutting down because of new environmental regulations. The company is reevaluating how to best operate in these tough economic times. Brown said the county commission will have to do the same.
“We lose coal severance money and then we also lose tax money from their equipment if they’re going to move out,” said Brown.
That means there’s less money for county salaries, improvement projects and even new equipment for the sheriff’s department. The commissioner said the positive economic projects happening in Boone County always seem to be overshadowed by news like Alpha’s.
“Things were moving pretty good. We’ve got a new hospital being built in (Madison). We’re doing the best we can to keep the county clean in order to spur people to move into the area. But without employment, we just have people moving out.”
The county currently employs a handful of former miners who lost their jobs. Brown said they’re a great addition to the county payroll.
“They do water projects. They build buildings; do electrical work, general maintenance. They’re jacks of all trades,” the commissioner said.
While the county would like to hire more workers like them, that’s just not possible.
“We’re at the point right now where we have to watch every penny that we spend.”