Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 19, 2012

Mine closures

Another hit for coal country

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — The region’s embattled coal industry took another significant hit Tuesday with the announcement that coal producer Alpha Natural Resources was cutting production by 16 million tons and eliminating 1,200 jobs company wide, laying off 400 workers immediately by closing mines in Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The mine shutdowns start this week, while the rest of the layoffs will be completed by the end of the first quarter after Alpha fulfills current sales obligations, Alpha Chief Executive Officer Kevin Crutchfield told the Associated Press. In all, the layoffs amount to nearly a tenth of Alpha’s 13,000-person workforce.

The company says it is closing four mines in West Virginia, three in Virginia and one in Pennsylvania. The impacted mines are a mix of deep and surface mines, and all are non-union operations.

Company spokesman Ted Pile said most of the displaced workers may eventually be rehired, either assigned to new jobs in other locations or replacing outside contractors. Only 150 workers in West Virginia and three in Pennsylvania will not have any other employment opportunities with the company, he told the AP.

Alpha’s announcement is the latest in a serious of woes to impact the coal industry.

It would appear that the region’s historic coalfields are facing a perfect storm of challenges. First and foremost is the senseless war on coal and other fossil fuels being led by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama administration. Second is the current low price for natural gas. An unusually warm winter and a drop in world-wide demand for coal has added to the industry’s woes.

Also troubling is a new report released last week by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy that suggests the state is likely to continue losing coal industry jobs through 2020.

Center policy analyst Sean O’Leary estimated last week that coal employment in southern West Virginia would fall from about 16,000 in 2010 to 11,400 in 2020 before rebounding to 20,500 by 2035. The center has proposed the formation of a task force to help communities look for economic alternatives to coal mining.

Despite the current challenges faced by the coal industry, we believe attempting to write off the industry is premature. Coal remains one of our nation’s most abundant natural resources. Without coal, we wouldn’t be able to keep the lights on in West Virginia, and across America. Those in Washington who are attempting to replace our abundant natural resources with unproven green energy technologies can and will perhaps be replaced this November by angry voters.

In order to achieve true energy independence, America must embrace a diverse, all-of-the-above energy portfolio. One that includes not only coal, and new clean-coal technologies, but also natural gas and other fossil fuels. Green energy, including wind turbines, should be viewed as only one part of that portfolio.