Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

June 9, 2012

Alpha Natural Resources: 4 mines, 2 prep plants idled

ABINGDON, Va. — A mild winter, power plants switching to less expensive natural gas for fuel and the on going pressure from the federal Environmental Protection Agency prompted Alpha Natural Resources to discontinue mining operations at four eastern Kentucky coal mines and idle two preparation plants.

“This year, utilities in the U.S. are expected to burn the least amount of steam coal than at any time in the last 20 years,” Kevin Crutchfield, Alpha’s chairman and chief executive officer was quoted in a press release as stating. Crutchfield said the eastern Kentucky coalfields have seen increased pressure due to power companies switching from coal to natural gas, relatively high rail rates and competition from coal mined in the Illinois basin.

“Layoffs are an unfortunate last resort, and it’s tough for miners that want to work but are unable to because of factors beyond their control and the company’s control,” Crutchfield said. “The U.S. coal industry is confronting a ‘new normal,’ and (Alpha) wants to be sure we have the appropriate operating model, talent and agility to not just survive, but emerge a winner.”

The four mines — three underground and one surface mine with highwall — as well as the two preparation plants are located in Pike and Martin county Kentucky. Alpha announced that 436 coal miners will be impacted by the layoffs, but of that number, 286 employees will be offered other positions in Kentucky, southern west Virginia and Virginia. A total of 150 coal miners will be laid off, but the displaced workers will receive their normal wages and benefits for a 60-day period.

“Most of them are being offered positions in our other ongoing Kentucky operations, but also some mines in West Virginia and Virginia,” Alpha spokesman Ted Pile said in response to an email seeking comment. “I don’t know if the jobs are predominately in met or steam mines, and some of our mines supply both.”

U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., said he was sorry to learn that Alpha had to take this action in Kentucky.

“Hardworking Americans, their families and our communities need these jobs,” Griffith was quoted in a press release as stating. “In just the first six months of this year, Alpha has now reduced its workforce by over 650 employees. Unfortunately, while I think it’s unlikely, it is my hope that President Obama will see this news and adjust his policies immediately. I will continue to fight relentlessly against President Obama and all those who wage war on the coal industry and American jobs.”

In addition to idling the four mines and prep plants, Alpha announced it plans to close satellite offices in Richmond, Va., Denver, Colo., Latrobe, Pa., and Linthicum Heights, Md., by the end of the year. The company stated in the press release that the reductions should save the company $50-$60 million.

“Future sales forecasts are also being affected by a series of regulatory actions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has resulted in utilities announcing plans to shut down a number of generating stations that have traditionally used Central Appalachia coal,” according to the press release.

Crutchfield said Alpha is trying to preserve and enhance its metallurgical produce “as we maneuver through this tough environment,” he said.

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