Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 27, 2013

Caterpillar plant: More job losses for Southwest Virginia

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — The looming closure of the Caterpillar mining equipment plant in Pulaski, Va., is another troubling blow to the coalfields of Southwest Virginia. The company announced last week that it will be shutting down its mining equipment plant in Pulaski, laying off 240 workers and moving the mining equipment production to its plant in Houston, Pa.

The Pulaski plant was a regional employer for many families in Virginia’s 38th senatorial district. The company plans to offer severance packages to full-time management and support employees and will meet with the union to discuss benefits for production workers. The closure and move is expected to be completed by mid-2014.

The Pulaski facility made scoops, coal haulers and other mining equipment, according to the Associated Press.

In a statement, the company said the actions are needed to make its underground mining business more efficient and competitive. Earlier this year, the company also announced that it was shifting production at its Tazewell, Va., and Beckley facilities to the Pennsylvania plant.

The Caterpillar announcement is the latest in a series of scheduled coal-industry related plant closures. Appalachian Power’s coal-fired plant at Glen Lyn, Va., in Giles County is still scheduled for closure in 2015, as well one unit of the company’s Clinch River Plant in Russell County, Va.

 “The nature of the coal industry is cyclical, but people are saying that this is one of the most challenging times we’ve seen,” Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell, said last week. Pulaski is located in Puckett’s 38th Senatorial district. “The jobs in Pulaski were some of the best jobs in the area. I don’t think that the coal industry is dead. I’ve seen nothing on the front burner that replaces 40 percent of our energy needs right now. Coal has a role to play in the future, but what we really need is a national energy policy that will include coal.”

We agree. But given the current anti-coal environment in Washington, it is likely that the industry will face continued challenges in the months and years ahead.

Any time good-paying jobs in the coal industry are lost, the region as a whole suffers. Unfortunately, the new federal Environmental Protection Agency rules announced earlier this year by President Barack Obama will essentially prevent the construction of any new coal-fired power plants in our region. Even the Wise County-based Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center in Wise County, Va., — touted as one of the cleanest coal-fired power stations in the nation — could not be constructed today under the administration’s proposed new rules, according to U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R- Virginia.

That’s a pretty telling statement of just how far Washington is willing to go when it comes to waging its foolish war on coal.