CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Alpha Natural Resources said Thursday it expects to lay off 1,100 workers at 11 southern West Virginia surface coal mines by mid-October, citing dismal markets and federal regulation.
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The announcement dealt another blow to Appalachia's iconic, but dwindling, fossil fuel industry. The company said 2015 industry forecasts show Central Appalachian coal production will be less than half of its 2009 output.
It's due to a combination of familiar factors, Alpha said: competition from cheaper natural gas, weak domestic and international markets and low coal prices.
"Many mines in the region have done a great job finding ways to reduce costs and remain economically viable in this unprecedented business climate," said Alpha President Paul Vining, "but some Central Appalachia mines haven't been able to keep up with the fast pace at which coal demand has eroded and prices have fallen."
Alpha also laid some blame on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is pushing to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. The issue has sparked outrage in coal-producing states.
In the past three years, the Bristol, Virginia-based company says it has laid off 4,000 employees and idled 60 mines and 35 million tons of production. Alpha is one of the country's biggest coal suppliers, with mines in Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.
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The Bristol, Virginia-based company notified employees Thursday afternoon that it expects to idle mines and related facilities. None of the layoffs would be immediate. Production could continue under the right circumstance, but next year's projections aren't looking good.
"There may be cases where if market pricing improves, and we find alternate customers for the coal either at home or abroad, production could continue," said Alpha spokesman Steve Hawkins.
The mines are in Logan, Mingo, Boone, Raleigh, Kanawha and Fayette counties.
The affected mines produced 4.2 million tons of coal through the first half of this year. About 75 percent of their coal is used for power generation, and 25 percent is metallurgical coal for steel production, Hawkins said.
The federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN, Act requires companies to notify employees if large layoffs are possible.