Patriot Coal Corp. warns hundreds of mine workers in W.Va. layoffs could occur

Energy Associated Press

In what has become a painful exercise across Appalachia, Patriot Coal is again telling hundreds of West Virginia mine workers that they could lose their jobs.

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On Tuesday, the St. Louis-based company said it sent federally required warning notices to all 360 workers at its Corridor G mining complex and prep plant near Danville.

Everyone at the surface mining site received the same mass warning in April. Fifteen Danville workers ended up losing their jobs in June and 60 others were laid off at Patriot's complex in Wharton.

The notices do not necessarily mean all 360 will be laid off at the end of the 60-day warning period, said Patriot spokeswoman Janine Orf.

The toughest news for West Virginia coal this summer came from coal giant Alpha Natural Resources. In July, the company said it plans to lay off 1,100 workers at 11 southern West Virginia mines by mid-October.

Patriot's struggle has been both regulatory and market-based, said company president and CEO Bennett K. Hatfield. The Danville mining complex produced 2.3 million tons of thermal coal in 2013.

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"The combination of increasing EPA regulations, mild summer weather and low natural gas prices has resulted in thermal coal pricing at levels below operating costs at many Appalachian mines," Hatfield said in a news release Tuesday.

Many West Virginia officials are laying blame on federal oversight. A proposal by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants has prompted the largest outcry.

Bigger, systematic challenges facing Appalachian coal have also been percolating for years, including less-expensive natural gas, lousy markets domestically and internationally and dwindling reserves.

"We recognize market trends can play a part in these potential closures," Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in a statement released Tuesday. "However, these trends also reflect the regulatory environment in which industry must operate."

Nancy Pauley, who works at Danville Floral, said everyone in coal mining communities is affected with each wave of layoffs.

"It'll affect every business," Pauley said. "I'm sure of that."