Plans to lay off 1,100 West Virginia coal mine workers continue industry's downward spiral

The announcement by a major U.S. coal company that it plans to lay off 1,100 coal mine workers has set off a chain reaction of finger pointing in West Virginia.

Alpha Natural Resources' announcement Thursday coincided with public meetings this week over new federal rulings to combat global warming that include limiting carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said the state's fears became reality. Several GOP congressional candidates heightened attacks on Democratic foes for being in President Barack Obama's party.

But bigger, systematic challenges facing Appalachian coal have been percolating for years. Cheaper natural gas, lousy markets and depleting reserves have hurt the industry.

The reality is somber in southern West Virginia's coalfields, where many residents know no other way to make a living.